A Nice Christmas in Nice

I’ve been writing day and night, trying to finish a book on the 100 verses that everyone on earth should know by heart.  As you think of it, I’d appreciate your prayers for this project.  It requires working right through Christmas and to the New Year.  I hope it’ll be worth it in terms of advancing the cause of Scripture memory.  So I’ve been on a little hiatus from my online journal.  I don’t like to stay on hiatus very long, so here’s a story I told in a Christmas sermon eight or nine years ago.  It’s a true story, and I hope it’ll make your Christmas a little more Merry!

Years ago a little restaurant in Nice, on the French Riviera, was shoddily decorated for Christmas.  The weather was bad—cold and rainy—and on Christmas Eve only five tables were occupied. There were two German families, two French families, and an American sailor who was sitting alone at a table, writing a letter.  (It’s suitable for framing in a sermon, Christmas Eve service, or other venue).

The sailor was smiling to himself, but everyone else in the restaurant was depressed and irritable.  One of German families was clearly in the middle of a squabble.  Across the room, the French father slapped one of his children, and the boy cried.  Another family was in the middle of a vacation in which everything had gone wrong.  In the corner, a piano player was listlessly hitting the keys.  It was, all in all, a miserable scene.

Suddenly the door opened, sending a blast of cold air into the room.  In came the old French flower woman, wearing a tattered and dripping overcoat.  She started from table to table, trying to sell her roses, but nobody was interested.  Wearily she sat down at an empty table and the waiter approached her.  She said, “Nothing but a bowl of soup.  I haven’t sold a single flower all afternoon.”  Looking over at the piano player, she said, “Can you imagine, Joseph, ordering nothing but a bowl of soup on Christmas Eve.”  In reply, Joseph merely pointed to the little plate where people donated tips for his playing.  It was empty.

Meanwhile, the young sailor finished his meal, stood up, and put on his overcoat.  As he prepared to leave, he walked over to the old woman and picked up two roses.  “Merry Christmas,” he said.  “How much are these?” 

“Two francs, Monsieur.”

He pressed one of the flowers into the letter he had just written, then took out a twenty-franc note.  “I’ll have to get some change, Monsieur,” said the old woman.

“No ma’am,” said the sailor, bending over and kissing her on the cheek.  “This is my Christmas present to you.”  He then went over to one of the other tables and gave the other rose to the distraught wife.”

“Merry Christ,” he said.  Then he turned, flashed a warm smile, and left.

No one moved for twenty seconds.  Suddenly the old flower woman jumped up waving the 20-frank note.  Hobbling out into the middle of the room, she danced a jig and, looking at the piano player, said, “Joseph, you and I will have a feast tonight.”

Joseph’s fingers hit the keys and he started beating out “Good King Wenceslas.”  Soon everyone in the room was singing, and the Germans even got up and stood on their chairs, clapping.  One Christmas carol followed another, and people crowded in from the street until the restaurant was packed with people, weeping and singing the carols of Christmas.

You might say that Christmas just exploded in that drab little restaurant.  It was the American sailor’s gift that night.  He lit up the room.  That’s what Christ did for the whole world!  The Bible teaches that this world is a drab and miserable place, filled with fighting and squabbling.  But Jesus came, offering us His indescribable gift.  He came with the Gospel.  He came with Good News about God and Heaven and Eternal Life.  And His presence makes all the difference.  It lights up this world and it lights up our lives.