“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” Isaiah 9:2
Perhaps you have heard this story. On a Friday morning in January 2007, during the peak of the commuter rush, an unassuming young man entered a train station in Washington, D.C.
The young man set up along a wall beside a trash can out of the way of foot traffic. He opened a violin case, threw a few coins and dollar bills int, and proceeded to begin playing.
Now street musicians are almost everywhere, but this was no ordinary street musician. This nondescript violinist dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals cap was renowned violinist Joshua Bell—one of the finest classical musicians in the world at the time. Only a few days before people were paying $100 or $200 a ticket to watch him play. He plays to standing-room-only audiences as a rule. But on this day, he played his heart out on a Stradivarius violin (hand-crafted) just feet away from clueless commuters hurrying to work.
He was playing a Bach piece—one of the most difficult violin solos ever written. Bell called it “a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect.”
So, what happened? Did these busy commuters stop in their tracks, mesmerized by the master violinist and the magical melody he played?
Not so much. For the first few minutes, no one even acknowledged him. Everyone hurried by, head down, fixated on their own destination. Nothing grabbed them. Not the music. Not the priceless instrument. Not the musician.
A short time later, a woman tossed a dollar into the violin case. A few minutes after that, a commuter stopped and listened to the gift being played out into that train station air. For more than 40 minutes, Bell played—and only two people stopped to listen. Donations in his violin case added up to $32.17. Others were unaware and unfazed by what was going on.
Author John Lake in his book, Timeless Beauty, summed it up this way:
“If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that, what else are we missing?”
There is a painting by the artist Bruegel entitled Census at Bethlehem, which depicts the town at the time of Jesus’ birth. Everyone is busy with their lives and seem to miss the momentous thing that was happening there. A baby in a manger was not what they expected. They were looking for a king, a Messiah, Ruler, or Conqueror. So they missed the Savior when he came.
We are almost to Advent—the coming of Jesus anew this year. This in a world of pandemic, inequity, and other challenges. Too many to mention. Let’s not miss out on the obvious. Learn a lesson from those who long ago missed the Savior or those who more recently missed the violin virtuoso, simply because it wasn’t what they expected. And don’t let the distractions of our time keep you from seeing the patient ferment of God’s kingdom coming!
Peter Kelder is Resonate Global Mission's Regional Mission Leader for the Central USA region. Do you and your church want to discuss how you can engage your community and join in God's mission this Advent season? Connect with Peter here.
Photo: Census at Bethlehem, Bruegel