There have been many Christmas Seasons when I have looked high and low for Christmas Cards that included the poem, “One Solitary Life.” I came across the revered poem easily over 40 years ago during a kiddie matinee at the famed Radio City Music Hall, which is in midtown Manhattan. The Radio Music Hall is huge – it can comfortably seat 6,000 – and so awesome is the Christmas Spectacular and its appeal still unfathomable after its austere beginning in 1933, that it just announced this year’s dates, November 8, 2019 to January 5, 2020.
Tickets are darn near impossible to get but on my first time a crowd of us was led by Auburn’s wondrous David Housel.
I was forever smitten. The Rockettes’ dazzling precision line not withstanding (so help me those dancers have legs you’ll swear begin high up under their arms!) the show is spellbinding. From the wooden soldiers to the Nutcracker Suite, the ticket is worth every cent.
About halfway through the show, the lights are dimmed to near darkness. After a perfect kettle-drum roll, a faceless announcer, beautifully a rich baritone with a timing that is impeccable and his delivery perfectly-balanced, begins to read, “One Solitary Life.”
Our audience that day, free to give its oohs, ahhs, and shivers, was stunned to see a complete and overwhelming manger scene replete with the finest costumes, the animals all real, and the orchestra flawless. One year they gave a camel a little too much “stay calm” juice and it fell into a gaggle of nuns sitting up close. No one was hurt but another gaggle arose – this of cuss words that were oh so fitting (and particularly delighted the kids!).
For years no one had any idea who wrote the poem but in 1926 a very popular Baptist minister – James A. Francis of First Baptist in downtown Los Angeles, fessed up and it was unanimous -- what millions once believed was anonymous, was very real. Actually, it could have been written by any among us:
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EXCERPTS FROM ‘THE DRUM MAJOR SERMON
[NOTE -- These remarks were made by Dr. Martin Luther King at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta., Ga., on Feb. 4,1996., Two months later, on April 4, 1994, he was assassinated standing on the deck of a hotel in Memphis
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“I know a man — and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I'm talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving.
(One Solitary Life poem begins.) He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher.
And he went about doing some things. He didn't have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. (Glory to God) He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions.
And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. (Amen) One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. (Lord help him) When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together (Yes) have not affected the life of man on this earth (Amen) as much as that one solitary life. (“One Solidary Life reference ends here)
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His name may be a familiar one. (Jesus) But today I can hear them talking about him. Every now and then somebody says, "He's King of Kings." (Yes) And again I can hear somebody saying, "He's Lord of Lords." Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying,
"In Christ there is no East nor West." (Yes) And then they go on and talk about, "In Him there's no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world." He didn't have anything. (Amen) He just went around serving and doing good.”
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This morning, you can be on his right hand and his left hand if you serve. (Amen) It's the only way in.
Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)
I would like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that's all I want to say.
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"Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.