Tim Throckmorton: Our Christmas past began in Bethlehem

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 4, 2022

I can still recall the excitement pulsating through my mind as we prepared for one the most exciting journeys of the year — the annual ride to Portsmouth to look at Christmas lights!

We’d pile into Grandpa Cecil’s turquoise Rambler and off we’d go.

This was no small occasion, I might add. School was out for Christmas break, letters to Santa had been promptly mailed and the school passing party had netted me a cool soap on a rope, the sports edition no less!

Email newsletter signup

It was almost dark as we approached the metropolis of Portsmouth and found ourselves totally enthralled by the lights!

I can still remember thinking, “How lucky folks must be to live in town and get to see the lights every night.”

The city folks were probably saying, “Oh, to live in the country where we don’t have all these lights!”

To me though, these are memories I will cherish for a lifetime.

I remember the hustle and bustle of Chillicothe Street filled with busy shoppers and though the old stores I remember are long gone, I still know the excitement of Christmas.

I believe it’s because Christmas doesn’t live in a building or in our memories, for that matter.

It is found in the message of Messiah promised to us in Holy writ, recorded for us in the Gospels and extended to us through the Gospel of Mary’s child found in Bethlehem that first Christmas night.

Come to think of it, my Christmas past, and yours for that matter, goes back farther that we can remember. All the way back to Bethlehem!

Remember the message of the angels concerning Jesus? “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Did you catch that “Good Tidings of Great Joy to all people” part? If I’m not mistaken, “all people” includes you and me!

Good news of great joy, to us? You bet, but oh how we miss it!

A number of years ago a man sat at a metro station in Washington, D.C. and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning.

He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.

During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly, he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a three-year-old boy.

His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist.

Finally, the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time.

This action was repeated by several other children.

All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while.

About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace.

He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it.

No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world.

He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100 each.

This is a real story.

Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people.

The outcome challenges us to guard against allowing ourselves to miss the true meaning of Christmas!

I want to cherish my Christmas past and the memories that have a special place in my heart. It wasn’t just for the shepherds Jesus came that night … He came for us as well!

Merry Christmas.

Tim Throckmorton is the national director of Family Resource Council’s Community Impact Teams.