We stood there, the three of us, in the predawn darkness. The sand beneath our feet was cold from the night air, and the ocean lapping at those same feet seemed almost warm by comparison. We had traveled many hours for our first vacation on the south Texas coast. The ocean seen from an airplane is one thing, but the ocean experienced up close for the first time is quite another. And so it was that for our third and final day we wanted to see the sun rise over the ocean.
We tiptoed out of the motel in our bare feet and walked the short distance to the beach. How empty it was. How dark the endless, ceaseless waves were. The sky over the sea betrayed the slightest hint of light. We walked along the beach together, eyes carefully watching where we stepped, as jellyfish lay in a long line where the night’s tide had abandoned them. All the time we watched the horizon, because we were there to see the sun rise. We were watching for the sun.
Slowly, very slowly, the darkness lifted from the horizon. We could see the outline of great ships on the very edge of ocean and sky. The clouds in one area slowly billowed upward in pink tones, etched with gold. And we walked and watched for the sunrise. We knew it was coming. We were not sure of the exact location or minute. But we knew it was coming.
We took several photos as we waited and watched. There in front of us on the sand were some small birds. They were busy darting in and out of the surf, selecting their breakfast out of the incoming and retreating tide. And we watched them, but only for a minute, or two at most, because we were there to watch for the sun. We took a picture of them, and as we turned our eyes up to the eastern sky… it was there!… almost halfway above the horizon, and burning brightly!
How disappointing! We had missed the first rays of the sun. How had this hap- pened? We were there — right there on the beach — we had only looked away for a minute… and we had missed the sunrise, not all of it, but the initial appearance.
That night, as I lay in bed, I reflected on the day. I remembered its beginning. I remembered how disappointed I was when the realization hit us that we had missed the first view of the sunrise. Then a strange feeling came over me as Scripture came to mind: This was the story of the bridegroom and the virgins. Like the virgins, we had all been there — ready, waiting, eyes watching. But for the merest moment of time we were distracted — all three of us — by busy little birds, with their fleeting concerns of the day. And we had missed what we had been waiting and watching for.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt 25:13).
P.S. — When the film was developed a few days later, there was one photo of those small birds… and in the background, there it was — the sun just peeping over the horizon! The sun had surely come, even if for the moment our eyes had been elsewhere.