At the corner of College Street and Haywood Road yesterday, near Mayfels’ Restaurant, a rail-thin young man, wearing a Santa hat over his shoulder-length hair and sweating profusely in the bright May midday sun, screeched out “Silent Night” on his not-well-tuned violin. 

He offered a “sacred” song of the Christmas season while sporting a red and white hat which symbolizes the “secular” commercialization of that time of year, reminding me of the inescapable tension between the freely-generous ways of Jesus and the anxiously-grasping ways of consumer culture.

At shimmering noon, under a nearly cloudless sky, he played a song we associate with midnight, winter’s cold and starlit darkness. While lunch-going workers and tourists crowded into restaurants, homeless folks gathered in Pritchard Park, and the clanging sounds of construction clogged the air, his song invited us to God’s healing silence and restoring peace.

Dressed for Christmas in May, playing a song wrenched out of its usual context in hopes of pocket-change dropped in his violin case, this out-of-season busker gave us a gift.  Often, in late December, when the goodwill of the actual Christmas season fills the air, someone will say: “I wish the Christmas spirit could last all year.”  This young street performer bore witness that it can.

A few blocks over, in front of Pack Place, a street preacher with blazingly angry eyes and a nearly-hoarse voice, hollered at those of us who walked by about how ticked-off God is with all of us. “If you think it’s hot this afternoon, just think what hell will be like.”  There’s no gospel, no love-of-God, in such a screed.  Just fear.

I was grateful when my looping walk took me back to the young man playing “Silent Night.” Wordlessly, he had the gospel, not that preacher.