The young voices sing in tight harmony, the air surrounding us almost trembling with astonishment at the beauty of their song. We in the pews are in agreement with the atmosphere; to a person it seems, holding our breaths, not wanting to miss a note or a chord.
The carol began as a common Christmas song—with familiar words and melody—but it has become much more than that. The young artists, led by that genius with a stick in his hand, started with the simple familiar tune and turned it into a symphony, a masterpiece of beautiful music and brilliant poetry.
Quietly, scarcely louder than a whisper, the voices draw us upward until, with more volume than seems possible from those young throats and greater skill than seems imaginable from musicians so inexperienced, we are overcome with wonder and with awe.
We who sit in the hard seats and listen have been carried far beyond the restraints of our time and circumstances. For a moment which seemed an eternity, our spirits soared with the melodies and harmonies that have drawn us into the very presence of the King of Christmas.
It has always been so for me. This music has power—power to soothe the spirit—power to move the soul—power to draw the heart from its deepest, darkest hiding place and lay it open before the Creator of all the Universe.
I know it is not the same for all. My life has been full of music from the day I was born, until now in my waning years. Many have had different experiences and have also lived joyfully. I freely admit it.
Still—music moves me.
Can I go a step further and tell you what else moves me?
Just as much as the music.
It may come as a shock to the reader. It did to me.
You see, I sit in the beautiful cathedral and am moved to tears by nothing more than sound in the air—that and the Spirit of God—and somehow, it feels natural and right.
But just this week, in my place of business, I was also moved to tears. . .
The old man had been in before. He had The Look. You know, that look in his eyes—almost empty, but a little wild, a little confused, and perhaps even, dangerous. He shuffled in, shoulders slumped, a defeated shell of a man, without hope.
He is homeless, or nearly so. Drifting from one relative to another, living under the stars when the weather permits, he calls no place home, but any place he lies down his bedroom.
He had a guitar to sell. I’ve told his story before. Well, not his, but the same basic story anyway. No money, no food, the urge to find funds has led him to my door. The guitar would feed him for a few days anyway.
Or, so he thought.
I didn’t want his guitar.
It is damaged and worn now. It was not much better when it was new. If I had bought it, the guitar-shaped-object would have found a semi-permanent home in my back room, a room which is already packed full by too many cheap, broken guitar-shaped-objects.
I didn’t want the guitar. I told him so.
The wild eyes turned angry for a few seconds, and I worried that things might get ugly. Then, he shrugged his shoulders and looking dejected, turned to go.
I wasn’t done, though. I know, after years of sleepless nights and remorse-filled days, that it was not my place to turn him away without help. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a couple of bills which I laid on the counter for him. Immediately, the angry eyes were back and he waved away my offer disgustedly.
He didn’t want my hand-out. He wanted to sell his guitar.
Quickly, I explained my dilemma. Motioning with my arms at the guitars leaning against the back wall and the cases stacked in the aisles, I told him that I can’t—just can’t—acquire another guitar to repair. Without disparaging his instrument, I made it clear. I simply don’t need his guitar.
Again, I held out the money and begged—yes—I begged him to take it. I suggested he could still sell the guitar to someone else who needs it. For a moment, his demeanor brightened, as he saw a way to get more than he expected when he first came through my door.
Then another idea came to him.
“I’ll accept your gift. But, I’m not going to sell this guitar.” The old guy proudly gestured with the instrument. “I know this guy who’s staying down by the tracks. He says he plays, but he doesn’t have a guitar to use. I’ll give this one to him.”
He reached a gnarled hand across the counter, first to take the gift I offered, and then again to grip mine in that ancient symbol of equality and respect, a handshake.
I looked into his eyes.
They were as clear as a bell. No anger. No confusion. No defeat.
Did I say they were clear? I meant to say that they were clear except for the tears that welled up in the corners of each one. As he let go of the firm grip he had on my hand, there were tears in my own eyes, as well.
He headed for the door. I’m pretty sure he was taller than when he came in. At least, his head was held up and the slump he had when he arrived was gone.
As he stepped outside, I heard his voice, “God bless you, friend.”
I can’t explain it, but I felt chills. Something like I felt when I listened to those young folks singing last night.
Something like it.
The apostle said that when we walk in love, our God smells a sweet aroma, as He did when His Son came for us.
This Christmas, as I worship in the beauty and opulence of the cathedral, with its stained glass windows and high ceilings, and all of it trimmed in oak, I’m going to remember that somewhere, out there in the cold and dirty world, a man plays a guitar.
The music inside might be prettier and more skilled.
I don’t know.
Somehow, I think the Savior of the world—the One who came as a baby on that first Christmas—I think He might consider the sound of that guitar playing down by the railroad tracks just a little sweeter.
Just a little.
A sweet aroma.
A song will outlive all sermons in the memory.
(Henry Giles ~ American minister/author ~ 1809-1882)
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
(Ephesians 5:2 ~ ESV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.