Third Sunday of Advent
11 December 2011
My dear friends,
John the Baptist said to the people, “there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me, and I am not fit to undo his sandal-straps.” At the beginning of his Gospel, John the Evangelist writes of the same person, “He was in the world that had its being through him and the world did not know him.” It is not a nice experience not to be recognised, not to be acknowledged.
A father came home one evening to find his little daughter crying bitterly. He asked her what was wrong. She said she had been playing hide and seek with her friends. But when it was her turn to hide she hid so well that they had given up looking for her and had gone off to play another game. She had been waiting and waiting for them to find her but they had failed to do so. When she finally came out of her hiding place she found herself all alone. Not finding it a comfortable place to be, this brought on the tears.
Of course we don’t have to hide to have the experience of not being recognised. On a cold January morning in 2007, a man emerged from a Washington Metro Station and positioned himself against a wall. He was a youngish white man, in jeans with a long-sleeved T-shirt, and wearing a baseball cap. From a small case he removed a violin. He placed the open case at his feet and threw a few dollars along with pocket change into the case. Then he turned around to face pedestrian traffic and began to play. For about 45 minutes he played six pieces of classical music on the violin.
During this time over 1,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on to meet his schedule. About 4 minutes later, the violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw it into the case and, without stopping, continued to walk. After another six minutes a young man leaned against the wall to listen, looked at his watch and started to walk again. Ten minutes later, a 3-year-old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along. And so it went on. In all, six people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32. He finished playing and there was silence. No one noticed and no one applauded. Not one person recognised the musician or the quality of the music that he played on that January morning in 2007.
The violinist was Joshua Bell, considered to be one of the greatest classical musicians in the world; and the violin was worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before this, Joshua Bell had performed at a sell-out concert in Boston, where the price of the seats averaged at $100 dollars each. Bell, a New Yorker, was in Washington to perform at the Library of Congress and to examine an 18th century violin that once belonged to Fritz Kreisler, an Austrian born musician and composer. The violin was handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1713 and was bought by the Library of Congress for $3.5 million.
The busking episode at the Metro station was the idea of the Washington Post. It was an experiment to check if, at an inconvenient time and place, the famous musician and the beautiful music he played would be noticed and appreciated. The Washington Post then published an article telling the public what happened and finished with the reflection – if people do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made – how many things do we miss as we rush through life? “There stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me.” “He was in the world that had its being through him and the world did not know him.”
There is a children’s story which describes how a crow flew into the sky with a piece of meat in its beak. Twenty other crows set out in hot pursuit and began to attack it viciously. When the crow eventually dropped the meat, the pursuers left it alone and flew off shrieking after the morsel. At this point the crow said “I have lost the meat but gained a peaceful sky.” Our busy hurried acquisitive lifestyle may be the biggest obstacle to our capacity to recognise, acknowledge, reflect, understand and appreciate.
Christmas recalls and celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. God became man. In human flesh, God was more visible to the human race than ever before. He lived among us and in the manner of his living he brought us God’s grace and showed us how to live. He taught us in word and deed. In Jesus Christ, we see a God who is a loving compassionate and forgiving father. His concern is to heal and to save and he is especially close to the weak, the poor and the overburdened. He is available to all who open to him their eyes, their ears, their minds and their hearts. If we fail to experience the richness of the mystery of the birth of Jesus Christ, it may be because our eyes, our ears, our minds and our hearts are elsewhere. “To all who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God.” “No one has ever seen God, it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” “From his fullness we have all of us received.”