Sermon Text: Wake-up Call
Have you ever had an epiphany? I bet you have.
“Epiphany” is just a fancy theological term for a wake-up call. An epiphany is a sudden realization of what something means. It’s usually a simple, striking event that gives us an intuitive grasp of reality.
And I bet you’ve had an epiphany. Or, more likely, a number of them.
In the church year, the season of Christmas is followed by the season of Epiphany. The stories are familiar — the story of the Wise Men from the East visiting the Christ Child; the story of the baptism of Christ; the stories of the beginning of Christ’s ministry.
These stories are wake-up calls in the Gospels. They are simple, striking stories that give us an idea that something amazing is going on here. The stories of Epiphany want us to realize what this Christ means.
An epiphany is a wake-up call, and I bet you’ve had an epiphany. Or, more likely, a number of them.
I’ve had my share. They don’t always sink in. I’m as full of shortcomings and short-sightedness as anyone else. I don’t always get the message. So I can always use yet another epiphany.
One of my favorite personal epiphany stories is almost forty years old now. My wife and I were living near Chicago at the time. We had come east to see our New York State families for Christmas.
Now, we had joined the Episcopal Church not long before, and I was very excited about our new kind of church. We were with my in-laws on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to drive down into Corning to go to the midnight service at the Episcopal Church, Christ Church in Corning.
My wife decided to stay home with her parents and our two-year old son. I drove down into Corning at 11:30, and it sure was a dark night. I was not all that familiar with Corning, since it was my wife’s home town, not mine. But I found Church Street and found Christ Episcopal Church. It was on a residential street, and it was hard to find parking. I had to drive a couple of blocks to find a spot.
But I scurried into the church entrance. I hate to be late for church. Two smiling ushers handed me a service bulletin and a candle. I went to a pew and sat down.
I caught my breath and started to warm up. And I looked around this church, which was of course new to me. One thing was odd — no kneelers. Episcopal churches have padded kneelers so we can kneel down at various parts of the service — but we’re Episcopalians, so we’re not gonna kneel on the floor! We love our padded kneelers. But this church didn’t have any. Odd, I thought.
Then I saw that they didn’t have Prayer Books in the pews. Now, the Episcopal Church uses the Book of Common Prayer for all services, and I love the Prayer Book. In fact, I joined the Episcopal Church because the Prayer Book put things in words just the way I wanted to pray them. It just fit my spiritual life perfectly. But this Corning church didn’t even have Prayer Books out.
And then, suddenly, I had my epiphany, the wake-up call.
I was in the wrong church.
In my defense, it was dark. I was on a street I really didn’t know. And it was Church Street, which has, as you might imagine, a number of churches. I looked at that service leaflet and saw the words, “First Presbyterian Church of Corning.”
Now, my mom is Presbyterian, and I love her. But with all due respect, I wanted to go to an Episcopal Church on that Christmas Eve. So I went back to the entrance and handed my candle to the usher. I said, “Would you please hold this for me?” I went outside and walked down Church Street a ways and walked into, yes, Christ Episcopal Church.
An epiphany. A surprise explanation or flash of insight. A wake-up call.
I woke up and thought, “What am I doing here?”
There comes a moment in life, maybe lots of them from time to time, maybe in church, maybe while praying, maybe any old time at all, when you ask yourself, “What am I doing here?” Life is full of epiphanies: small ones like my Christmas Eve epiphany in Corning, and bigger ones, too.
The important thing is to stay with the question. Don’t be afraid to ask it, to think about it. “What am I doing here? Am I in the right place? Do I need to make a move?”
I have had to ask that question many times in my life, and it’s not always been easy. I have not always gotten it right. I’m as full of shortcomings and short-sightedness as anyone else.
But I have learned to listen to the questions. I have learned to think about them all the time. I have learned to wrestle with them.
We all need a wake-up call now and then. It’s part of the pilgrimage. It’s part of the human journey. It’s part of life.
So don’t be afraid of the epiphanies. Don’t be afraid of thinking. And don’t be afraid to wake up.