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Colin And The Christmas Chimes

Matthew 5:14-16

There was once far up in the highlands of Scotland a wonderful Church. It stood high on a hill overlooking the moors and the glens of the rugged Scottish country-side. Every Sunday, as well as on several days like Christmas, hundreds of people from all of the surrounding towns and villages would climb the hill to worship beneath the towering arches of that great church. The sanctuary was so long that a person standing at the doorway could scarcely see the other end, where the choir stood on either side of the huge marble Communion Table. In the farthest corner was a magnificent organ. At one corner of the church building stood a great stone tower, with ivy growing over it, as far up as the eye could see. All the people knew that at the top of the tower was a chime of Christmas bells. They had hung there ever since the church was built and they were thought to be the most beautiful bells in all the world. Some described them as sounding like choirs of angels far up in the sky; others as sounding like the wind singing through the trees.

Now of all the services held in that great church, the special service on Christmas Eve was the most beautiful of all. People would come from miles and miles around to bring their offerings to the church where they would place them on the Communion Table in honor of the Christ-child. When the greatest and best Christmas offering was placed on the Table, there used to come, singing through the voices of the choir, the magnificent Christmas chimes far up in the tower.

But for many years now the chimes had not been heard. It was said that people had been growing less careful of the gifts for the Christ-child, and that no offering had been brought just enough to deserve the music of the chimes. Yet every Christmas Eve, people crowded to the Table, each one trying to bring some gift better than all the others. But while the service was splendid, the music beautiful, and the offering large, only the chilling of the December wind could be heard far up in the great stone tower. Now a number of miles from the church in a little highland village, lived a boy named Colin and his little brother. They knew nothing about the Christmas chimes, but they had heard of the Christmas Eve service and they decided to go. Colin said, “Little Brother, there are fine things to see and hear at that church. I have even heard people say that sometimes Christ himself comes to bless the service. What if we could see Him?”

The day before Christmas was bitterly cold, with a few lovely snowflakes flying in the air and a hard white crust on the ground. As nightfall came and as the boys happily walked along, they saw the church lights high on the hill up ahead. But just at that moment, they noticed something dark in the snow at the edge of the road. It was a poor woman, who had fallen, too sick and too tired to take another step. The soft snow drift at the edge of the road made a pillow for her and soon she would be so fast asleep in the wintry air that no one would ever awaken her again.

All of this Colin saw in a moment and he knelt down beside her, trying to arouse her. He gently jostled her shoulder, then he rubbed her face. She didn’t move. He said, “It’s no use, Little Brother, you will have to go on to the church alone.”

“Alone?” cried Little Brother, “and you are not going to be able to see the Christmas Eve service?”

“No,” said Colin. He could not keep back a bit of a choking sound in his throat and there was the glint of a tear in his eye. “See this poor woman,” he continued. “Look at her face. She will freeze to death if no one cares for her. Everyone else has gone to the church now, but when you come back you can bring someone who can help her. Until then I will stay here and hold her and try to keep her warm. And if you get a chance, Little Brother,”—at that, Colin reached down in his pocket and pulled something out—“if you get a chance, without getting in anyone’s way, slip up to the Table and put this little gold piece of mine there as an offering when no one is looking.”

The great church was a wonderful sight that night. Everyone said it never looked so bright and beautiful before. When the organ played and the huge crowd of people sang the carols of Christmas, the hills shook with the sound. Near the end of the service came the procession of the people with their offerings to be laid upon the Table. One after another the people marched proudly up to lay down their gifts to the Christ-child. Some even brought wonderful jewels; still others brought baskets of gold. The Christmas Chimes were silent. Then down the aisle of the great church came the Duke of Argyll, the richest, most powerful man in Scotland. As he stepped up to the Table, he took the shining, bejeweled crown from his head and placed it before the cross. Everyone in the church thought: “Surely now we shall hear the bells, for nothing like this has ever happened before.

But only the cold wind was heard in the town, and the people shook their heads in dismay. The procession was over and the choir began the closing hymn. But suddenly the organist stopped playing and everyone looked at the minister who was holding up his hand for silence. Not a sound could be heard in the church…but as the people strained their ears to listen, there came softly, but distinctly, swinging through the air, the sound of the chimes in the tower.

So far away, and yet so clear the music seemed; so much more beautiful were the notes than anything that had been heard before—rising, falling, pealing, away up there in the sky. And the people in the church stood transfixed, as still as though something held each of them in place… Then they all turned together and stared straight at the Table to see what great gift had awakened those long silent bells. But all they saw was the childish figure of Little Brother, who had crept softly down the aisle when no one was looking and had laid Colin’s little piece of gold on the Table to honor the Christ-child.

That, my friends, is what Christmas is all about. As John wrote: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” In the name of the Christ-child, I charge you to share God’s love with all whom you meet along your life’s way.

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