The feelings are familiar. Mouth open. Eyes like saucers. Chill up the spine. Heart pounding in the throat. Momentary disbelief. We frown and attempt to piece the story together without a script or narrator. Sometimes alone, occasionally with others . . . then boom! "The flash of a mighty surprise" boggles the mind, leaving us somewhere between stunned and dumb with wonder. "Am I dreaming or is a miracle happening?" So it is with surprises.
O. Henry did it with his endings. World War II, with its beginning. Surprises start parties and they stop partnerships. They solve murders, they enhance birthdays and anniversaries, they embellish friendships. Kids at Christmas love 'em. Parents expect 'em. Coaches use 'em. Politicians diffuse 'em.
We like 'em and we hate 'em. Just a few one-liners illustrate both reactions.
"Dr. Brown would like to discuss your X-rays right away."
"Class, take out a clean piece of paper . . . it's pop quiz time."
"We've been on the wrong road for an hour. Here, look at the map."
"The alarm didn't go off. It's almost noon!"
"Hello . . . I'm calling from the bank regarding your checking account."
"Honey, the doctor heard three heartbeats today."
"The boss wants to see you. No need to take off your coat."
"Congratulations—you made the cheerleading squad."
"We are happy to inform you your manuscript has been accepted for publication."
"This is Officer Franklin. We have your son down at the station. He's under arrest."
"The tumor we suspected to be malignant is actually benign."
"It isn't a carburetor problem, ma'am. Your whole engine is shot!"
"Sweetie, that wasn't leftover stew. It was Alpo."
"Did you know the bathroom scales weigh twelve pounds light?"
"Mom . . . Dad . . . Byron wants to marry me!"
And on and on they go. The highs and lows of our lives are usually triggered by surprises. Within split seconds we are sobbing or laughing like crazy . . . staring in bewildered confusion or wishing we would wake up from a dream.
Ever stopped to trace the surprises through the Bible? That Book is full of them when you look at certain events through the eyes of people in that day. Like . . . when Adam and Eve stumbled upon Abel's fresh grave. When Enoch's footprints stopped abruptly. When Noah's neighbors first realized it wasn't sprinkling. When aged Sarah said, "Ze angel vasn't kidding, Abe!" When Moses's ears heard words from a bush that wouldn't stop burning. When Pharaoh's wife screamed, "He's dead! Our son is dead!" When manna first fell from the sky. When water first ran from the rock. When Jericho's walls came tumbling down. When a ruddy runt named David whipped a rugged warrior named Goliath. When a judge named Samson said yes instead of no. When a prophet named Jonah said no instead of yes. When a woman from Samaria had a Jewish Stranger tell her all her secrets. When the disciples discovered that Judas was guilty. When the only perfect One who ever lived was nailed to a criminal's cross. When Mary saw Him through the fog that epochal Sunday morn.
And that's just a quick review of the snapshots. I mean, if we had time to enjoy the whole album, we'd be up 'til midnight. It's gasp-and-gulp city right up to the end.
And speaking of the end, that last page will be the greatest shock of all. Talk about "the flash of a mighty surprise!" How does "like a thief in the middle of the night" grab you? How about "in a moment . . . in the twinkling of an eye"? Gives me the willies just writing those words. Imagine all those open mouths, eyes like saucers, spine-tingling chills high up in the clouds!
Jesus's return will be the absolute greatest surprise. Well, maybe I had better not say that. The greatest surprise is that people like us will be included in the group, stunned and dumb with wonder. Let's face it, that won't be just a surprise or a dream. That'll be a flat-out miracle.