I was a member of The Salvation Army for most of my life, so the Christmas season had often left my ears ringing weeks into the New Year. It wasn’t as bad for me as it was for some because I would play carols on my cornet (very similar to a trumpet) too. During the 1998 season I was primarily in Manhattan near Rockefeller Center for the Red Kettle Campaign. One day I was at the main entrance of Saks 5th Avenue, in the middle of the block. This picture is the view I had looking across the street from the store.
A man in a wheelchair rolled up to the corner and began soliciting donations for himself. His tin can advertised his status as a veteran in need. One of his legs was missing below the knee. He had on an ancient woolly hat that was more holes than fabric. His coat was adorned with electrical tape placed over tears to keep the insulation from escaping. One of the lenses of his glasses made his eye look twice as large through the many scratches. White tape and cotton balls covered the other eye. While singing to the tunes I was playing he would shake the can and, with raised brow, invite people to help alleviate his situation.
Finally, somebody put a dollar in. He put his can on his lap and slowly made his way down the sidewalk in my direction, alternating between using his arms on the wheels and scooting with his one good leg. When he was within arm’s reach of my kettle he opened his can and removed the day’s first donation. His shivering hand reached towards my kettle with a contribution of its own.
This isn’t right, I thought. He needs this as much as anybody – and he certainly earned it! My sense of duty prevented me from stopping in the middle of a carol, so I reached down with my left hand to block the kettle’s hole. He realized that his window of opportunity would last only as long as the carol did and tried to force the dollar past my hand while my attention was divided. With my hand still over the hole I swung the pot quickly in different directions creating a moving target. I stayed the course, successfully dodging his efforts despite the extreme vibrato it produced in my playing.
When the song was finished, I shared my objection with him. He said “Son, I know that you are people of God. Someday his Son will make right for me what this world has messed up. So I have to give him the first of whatever I get to show him my thanks for this hope. Please don’t take this blessing from me.” I slowly pulled my hand away, allowing him to complete his act of worship.
The “good news” offered to the Shepherds was used for the ascension, or “birth”, of a Roman Emperor considered a god and world savior. These earthly kings made life tolerable and even satisfying for vassal nations. But Jesus, the true World Savior, came to put all creation back to the way God had created it to be before people ushered sin into the world. It will be far more than just bearable. No more pain, injustice, or sorrow.
That veteran’s hopeful sentiment rang true, and my ears are still ringing.