In the late evening of January 2nd, some years ago, I was driving a rental car to Tampa, Florida, from which my family and I were scheduled to take a flight home the next morning. We were traveling on a barren stretch of road between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75 near Bonita Springs, a city on the southwest coast of Florida. Up ahead we saw the flashing lights of what appeared to be a police car. At first, we thought that there must have been an accident or that someone had been pulled over for a traffic violation. We slowed down a bit but kept moving forward. When we got closer we saw two police vehicles, with lights flashing, blocking our lane of traffic and a pickup truck, also with lights flashing, moving towards us in the opposite direction.
The pickup truck pulled up beside us and the driver rolled down his window and said straightforwardly to me, “Turn on your flashing lights and pull over, we’ve got a couple of elephants coming through.” Although puzzled by the meaning of his words, I did as he asked and stopped the car, turned on the flashing lights, and waited to see just what he was talking about. We all peered through the front window of the car trying to see what was ahead of us. Out of the darkness of the night emerged a long string of elephants. The elephants—we counted 13 to 14 of them— were linked, trunks to tail in one long and impressive procession. Handlers walked alongside the elephants guiding them in a straight line with the ropes attached to them. We could not believe what we were seeing.
I rolled down the window on the driver’s side to get a better look. One of the elephants, perhaps hearing the noise of my car engine or perhaps scared by me and the others in the car peering at him/her lifted up his front foot, and made a loud noise—the kind that elephants make— and moved towards our rental car. The handler pulled on the ropes to calm the elephant down. I, for my part, quickly rolled up the window.
The elephants were followed by 20 of more zebras, one mule, and then 20 to 30 horses. In no time the animals and handlers passed us by and I drove off wondering what in the world had just happened.
We quickly began to talk amongst ourselves, telling and retelling the story of what had just happened. We wondered aloud just how we might have explained it to our auto rental company if that disturbed elephant had stepped on top of our car. Realizing the utter absurdity of the story, and the likelihood that we would all be judged quite insane had something like that actually happened, we laughed with utter joy and frivolity.
The most remarkable thing about this experience was that it was completely unexpected. Nothing we had done that day could have prepared us for this event. It came as a complete surprise.
I’m sure that the earliest followers of Jesus must have sounded crazy to others when they claimed that they had found the Messiah, or when they later claimed that this Messiah, who had been crucified by the Romans, had been raised by God from the dead.
Although others may have thought that these followers of Jesus had gone off the deep end, those surprised by God’s glorious and unexpected actions, I’m sure, experienced a complete and utter joy when they told others about what they had seen and heard.
In the season of Epiphany, we tell and retell the stories of the manifestation of God’s goodness and love to the nations, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ.
These epiphanies of God’s grace and goodness, however, are not limited to the past. God’s mercy and goodness are new every day. Pay attention this season to the ways in which God moves in your life. Take time to share with others the joy and wonder of those unexpected moments in which you, perhaps for a moment, become aware of God’s grace in your life.