I must have been 4 or 5 years old.
It was Christmas Day and it had been a wonderful day.
The tree was still up, the presents had all been opened. There were toys all over the place.
But – my sister had not been behaving. I’m sure of this, it was all her fault. I’m sure I did my best to get her to behave but for some reason my father thought both of us had been naughty.
He was beginning to threaten us with the most terrible prospect. I’m not talking minor league threats. He didn’t say he was going to put us in time out, or spank us, or ground us or deprive us of food and water. He threatened to call Santa Claus.
Up until then, I had no idea that my father personally knew Santa Claus or had his telephone number. Apparently, my father had more power and authority than I’d ever imagined.
My sister and I did our best -- I mean we really, really tried to behave. But then it happened. We did something that just brought my father’s patience to an end.
He picked up the telephone and called Santa Claus.
My sister and I were in tears and we started begging him, “Daddy, Daddy please. Don’t do this.”
I mean how humiliating would it be for Santa and his sleigh to show up in our drive way in the middle of the day? The whole neighborhood would see him packing our toys and taking them back to the North Pole.
Other parents would point to us and say to their children, “You see? You see, you don’t want to be like the Pittendreigh children.”
Finally, after intense begging, my sister and I, along with my mother, finally convinced my father to relent.
Whew! That had been a close call.
For years after that, every Christmas I would sit in Santa’s lap and the first thing he would ask me was, “Have you been naughty, or nice?”
And I would know that Santa remembered the day when my father had called him, waking him up from his nap, and almost asking him to take back our toys.
The reality of life is that we have to earn certain things in this world.
We have to earn our jobs, we have to earn our homes, we have to earn our place in life. We have to work hard for these things.
Remember the old television advertisements of Smith Barney? A distinquished actor, John Houseman would appear on the television screen and say, “At Smith Barney, we make money the old fashioned way. We EARN it.”
But at Christmas, a gift is given whether we have been naughty or nice. It is given freely, without strings attached.
It is a strange scene in our New Testament lesson. Shepherds are in the fields, minding their own business. They have no expectation of anything happening out of the ordinary. A single angel appears to them, and announces “good news of great joy for all people.”
For all people – not for those who are rich enough, or powerful enough, or strong enough, or famous enough, or good enough. It is for all people.
We don’t have to earn the gift of Christ in our lives.
The only thing more amazing than that is that we so often fail to receive the gift.
A free gift, left unreceived.
On January, 12, 2007, a young man in blue jeans and a baseball cap entered a subway station in Washington DC. He opened up the violin case he had been carrying, tuned his violin and began to play.
For over 40 minutes he played six classical pieces. One thousand, ninety seven people passed by. Only 7 people stopped to listen for at least one minute. Most were too busy to stop and enjoy the music. Twenty seven people tossed some money into his open violin case, earning him a total of $32.17.
At the end of 43 minutes, he quietly packed up his violin and walked away.
Not a single person applauded.
That came to less than one dollar a minute.
Now what makes this story interesting is that this was not a typical violinist. It was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s leading classical musicians. Instead of making a dollar a minute, he usually makes about a thousand per minute. The violin he played is one of the most valuable ever made – a Stradivari valued at $3.5 million.
A reporter stood by observing and recording this event. You can see this on youtube. Just Google Joshua Bell and subway and it will come up. You will hear the wonderful music, and you will watch the people just walking by, ignoring the gift.
Except for two people. A postal worker named John - a "smallish man with a baldish head". John had learned the violin as a youth. He recognized the quality of Joshua Bell's performance and stood enjoying it from the distance.
And then there was a demographer named Stacy. Stacy had seen Bell in concert 3 weeks before, paying over $100 for her ticket. She recognized him. "And here he was, the international virtuoso, sawing away, begging for money. She had no idea what was going on, but whatever it was, she wasn't about to miss it. Stacy positioned herself 3 yards away from Bell, front row, center. She had a huge grin on her face. The grin, and Stacy, remained planted in that spot until the end.
Stacy told the reporter: `It was the most astonishing thing I've ever seen in Washington. Joshua Bell was standing there playing in rush hour, and people were not stopping, not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?"
In another place, at another time, the night was filled with heavenly music and brilliant light. Angels sang to workers who were busy with their flocks. They proclaimed the birth of Christ. His arrival was "good news of great joy for all people".
Where would those workers of long ago find this glorious child?
A concert hall with an orchestra playing perhaps?
It was more like a subway station than a palace.
"You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in manger."
Who would have expected to find the heavenly King there of all places?
Usually he lived among angels; now among cattle.
No splendid costume; just the simplest clothing.
And not a mighty warrior, learned scholar or majestic ruler, but a baby - humanity at it's weakest.
What a surprising place to find God.
Like a violinist playing in a train station, God made himself accessible to the masses so we can all enjoy the beauty of his gift.
It is surprising that God gives us the gift of his Son so freely, whether we deserve the gift of not. But it is more surprising that so many will ignore this gift, and not bring Christ into their lives.
So what of you? Have you received the gift of Christ?
Or are you just passing through on this night, in a hurry to be on your way?
Copyright 2013, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
For copies of other sermons, visit www.Pittendreigh.com