Pastor John Allen
For twenty-three years, beginning in 1990, I served as a chaplain in the Montana Air National Guard. The first two years of service were during the “Cold War.” The perceived threat, in those days, was that the Warsaw Pact countries, led by the Soviet Union, would attack one or more NATO countries, allied with the US. World War III would presumably start with a swift Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Belgium, to deny a landing point for NATO allies. This conventional warfare was expected to be short lived, for neither side wanted to be the last to deploy the inevitable nuclear weapons.
As a squadron of fighter jets, our basic mission was to “Survive, Fight, Win.” Surviving a direct nuclear strike, for obvious reasons never came up in our training. We, who were, “non-essential,” to the fight spent the better part of most exercises sheltering against radioactive fallout. We sat, and sat — reading books, watching movies, and struggling to imagine that anything like this could ever happen. Such a war could scarcely be imagined. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War was declared to be over, and talk was of a “peace dividend.” How would we spend all of the money we would save, by not preparing for war? Now we had only to worry about “rogue nations,” and terrorist groups. In 1993 there was an unsuccessful attempt to bring down the World Trade Center with a truck bomb. We felt relieved at the relatively few casualties, and the minor damage done to the building, but we were warned to be alert.
Then came September 11, 2001, as another “day that will live in infamy.” Now, we lined up the troops for a no-kidding war. It was my job to brief the troops and their families on the cultural and religious differences between the US and the Middle East, and praying for their safe return. I remember thinking, with a lump in my throat, as families were divided in tearful goodbyes, “So this is what we have been training for all of these years. I pray we have trained them well.”
The key words for Advent season, will be, “Stay Awake, Watch, and Pray”…”So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:7). “Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly, and what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mark 13:35-37).
Have a blessed Advent season and a merry Christmas.