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Two years ago, the great Garfield Phone Mystery was finally solved.

Early in the 1980s, after a fierce Atlantic storm, bright orange objects began to appear on the beaches of the Brittany coast of France. 

They were Princess-style phones in the shape of a certain pizza-loving cartoon cat.  If you pick up the receiver, Garfield’s eyes flutter open.  The novelty pieces were popular at the time.  But no one considers them welcome additions to one of the most beautiful stretches of seacoast in the world. 

The phones have been coming in on the waves for almost 40 years now.  Thousands of Garfields, or pieces thereof, have been harvested by beachcombing environmentalists called to face an entirely new kind of kitty litter.  One of their frustrations is that no one knew where they were coming from.

In March 2019, a local farmer suddenly stepped forward with information he and his brother had come upon decades earlier. 

Having grown up in the area, the two boys knew where to find coastal caves accessible for just a few hours at low tide.  In one of those caverns they had seen a half-submerged container – the kind that are typically stacked atop cargo ships.  The container was filled with – you guessed it – thousands of Garfield novelty phones. 

Intrepid explorers have since clambered out to the cave and confirmed two things:  The container is impossible to retrieve, and there appear to be plenty of Garfields awaiting their turn to say “Surf’s up!” 

The problem hasn’t been solved.  But at least the mystery has.  And that has brought a measure of relief.

Mysteries are intriguing.  They capture our attention.  It’s hard to believe, but something like 300 new murder mysteries are published every day in the United States alone.

Mysteries were all the rage in the ancient world, too.  Especially when it came to religious cults.

The so-called mystery religions flourished during the latter days of the Roman Empire.  There were at least a dozen of them.  Some (like the cults of Osiris and Isis in Egypt) focused on a dying-and-rising god.  Others (like the cult of Cybele in Asia Minor) worshiped a sacred “earth mother.”  Still others (including the cult of Mithras in Persia) were popular with Roman soldiers because of their macho image.

From one perspective, these groups were a bit like Rotary clubs.  They provided an opportunity to spend time with special acquaintances beyond one’s household or place of work. 

But what really distinguished the mystery religions were their secret initiation rites.  Prospective members had to jump through a series of hoops – some of them quite dramatic – in order to join the cult.  Initiates to Mithraism, for instance, stood in a pit underneath a wooden lattice.  As a bull was slaughtered above their heads, they experienced a literal “baptism of blood.” 

The mystery religions promised out-of-this-world excitement – ecstatic thrills and chills that made the classic Greek and Roman gods seem boring by comparison.

Most importantly, initiates would be entrusted with the cult’s unique mystery.  This was far more than a secret handshake.  The mysteries were usually “inside information” on the god or goddess at the center of the cult.  Only a chosen few were worthy of such knowledge.  This was heady stuff. 

The mystery religions eventually came and went.  They are now consigned to the dustbins of history. 

But there was another religious option during the latter days of the Roman Empire – one which, in a manner of speaking, ended up conquering the empire itself.  The Jesus Movement also had a mystery at its very core.  But this mystery was not for insiders only.  It was, and still is, available to anybody and everybody.

God’s great mystery, in one word, is Jesus.

The apostle Paul encouraged his readers to have “minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we’ve been shown the mystery! I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or ‘the Secret.’” (Colossians 2:2-4, The Message)

Mysteries are exciting. 

It was fascinating to speculate on the origin of all those Garfield phones.  People are endlessly interested in pursuing the secrets of the cosmos.  And there’s something about human beings that makes us revel in whispering, “I know something you don’t know.”

But it’s even more satisfying to learn that the most important reality in the universe just happens to be an open secret.   

His name is Jesus.