The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

A DATE WITH DESTINY

Delivered 12/7/03
Text: Luke 3:1-6
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

December 7th - Pearl Harbor Day - the "date which will live in infamy," according to President Roosevelt. A Date with Destiny. December 7, 1941 was, for what is called "the Greatest Generation," the day that changed their world, just as September 11th is the day that changed the world for the generation of today.

"Where were you when you heard about September 11th?" We all could answer that. "Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?" Even 60+ years later, just as easily remembered by those who lived through it. Patty Lundahl(1) had just come home from a movie - unusual, because this was a Sunday, and she was not normally permitted movies on Sunday. Her father was standing by the radio as she came home. That is when she heard. Mary Jane Hubbard was out on the porch - it was a decent day: sunny, cold, no snow. The news was worrisome because her husband might be called up and here she was, she was pregnant with her first child. Blair Logan was a teenager at home with family when the announcement was broadcast. Janice Logan was out for a walk with a friend near her Philadelphia home when her mother called her to say there was "bad news" on the radio. Merle and Betty Mitcham were in her parent's living room in Oil City when word came. Mary Ann Buerkle was in the car with her family driving from Sheffield to Kane to see Greta Garbo's movie, "Two-Faced Woman" when the announcement came over the radio. They did follow through with the movie plans, but Mary Ann says her father got up several times during the show to go out to the car for the latest. Larry Krespan was lying on the living room floor reading the Sunday paper.
"We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin: The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by air, President Roosevelt has just announced. The attack was also was made on all naval and military activities on the principal island of Oahu."(2)
It was a devastating day. Navy Chaplain Howell Forgy, aboard the New Orleans, was flat on his back in the rack as he mulled over his sermon for that day. Suddenly the PA system sounded out, "Now hear this, battle stations! Battle stations! All hands to your battle stations!"

He said to himself, "Someone is going to catch it for this. Sunday morning and the time for Divine Services and they are running some kind of exercise. It must be the Army."

Then he heard, "This is no drill! This is no drill!" He ran to the porthole to look out just in time to see the first of the 353 planes coming across the mountains for their attack on the harbor. The time, 0755.(3)

A decade ago, in Desert Storm, we watched our pilots drop their bombs right down the elevator and ventilator shafts of buildings. The technology was amazing. Sixty-two years ago, at Pearl Harbor, one pilot dropped a bomb right down the smoke stack of the USS Arizona. It went five decks down into the boiler room and exploded like a volcano. But the most devastating bomb hit the forward magazine area and exploded with the intensity of one million pounds of TNT. Those who witnessed the action said the ship veritably lifted out of the sea and then settled down to the bottom of the harbor. From the first bomb to her demise was a total of nine minutes. 1,177 sailors are entombed to this day in the Arizona.

The attack on Pearl Harbor lasted for a shade under two hours. 2,403 killed in action, 1,178 wounded, 640 that were never accounted for; plus, 188 planes lost, 158 damaged, six major airfields, and every battleship of the Pacific Fleet - eight - crippled or sunk plus other ships.

Why did it happen? Simple answer, really. We were not ready. Despite the fact that there had been diplomatic rumblings for weeks of something brewing, we were caught off guard. That morning at 7 AM, while the Japanese warplanes were almost an hour from their target, two US soldiers on a small radar station in the Pacific scanned the screen and saw dots and dots and more dots appearing, until the whole screen was filled. The soldiers notified their supervisor, a young lieutenant, the only officer around, since it was a Sunday. His crucial words: "Don't worry about it." Not ready.

Now, it is 62 years later. The calendar says today is the anniversary of that fateful day. But it also says we are in the season of Advent, that time during the church year when we are uniquely called to GET READY. We hear again the call of John the Baptist - As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" GET READY!

That is indeed a word for us to take seriously. But, depending upon your perspective, the word can be taken in two diametrically opposite ways. It can be a word of warning, if that is what you need: "Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth." Sounds for all the world like a bomb blast, and if you are not ready for it, you can be crushed in the rubble. Are you ready? If not, GET ready! Let this be your wake-up call.

Or, it can be a wonderful word of promise: "Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth." The final result of an incredible cosmic civil engineering project that makes the blessing of God accessible to everyone. Are you ready?

So which is it? Is our date with destiny the blast of a bomb or the blessing of God? The answer is in the final verse of the lesson. And what does it say? "And all humankind will see God's judgment?'" No. "And all humankind will see God's SALVATION.'" Whew! All RIGHT!

Are you ready? Are any of us ever REALLY ready? I doubt it. In this life you and I are pilgrims on a journey (and in a moment, we will take a bit of nourishment for our pilgrimage). We prepare ourselves as best we are able, but we know painfully well that our preparations are never quite enough. We take what comes, make the appropriate adjustments, and move on. Our preparations at Pearl Harbor in 1941 were woeful, and the result was disaster. But the further result was to awaken this "sleeping giant" of a nation from its isolationist hibernation and move us into the world struggle, a move which turned out rather well in the end.

Are you ready for tomorrow...and the next day and the next and the next? What will God have in store? What will you make of it? The best, I hope. The news today is not that of 62 years ago, news of disaster. It is news of destiny. Yours and mine. And it is in the hands of a living, loving Lord. And that is GOOD news indeed.

Amen!


1. The individuals listed here are all members of First Presbyterian Church.

2. CBS Radio, http://www.execpc.com/~dschaaf/flash.wav

3. http://www.airbornepress.com/pearlharbor.html

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