Caleb … Jonah … Zacchaeus … Hosea … These are the men of the Bible we have talked about this week. After spending a week on women of the Bible, we thought we would look into some men, but especially some men of lesser notoriety who are not usually mentioned when talking about great men of faith.
These four were fairly easy to come up with, but the fifth one has been difficult. I considered Timothy of whom Paul spoke when he said, “let no one despise your youth”; or Mordecai from the story of Esther; or Onesimus, Philemon’s servant whom Paul returned to Philemon as a free man. I even thought of writing about the thief on the cross who believed and was ushered into heaven by Jesus, but then Marti came up with the best idea of all: Jesus Himself.
Certainly Jesus does not apply in terms of notoriety, as He is arguably the most recognized person who ever lived. But in terms of obscurity, humble beginnings, poverty, and lineage, He was basically a nobody — an itinerate preacher from a tiny town who traveled about with a sorry group of ragtag followers, and whose short life was ended by a criminal crucifixion.
This humility by which God chose to bring His son into the world has been immortalized in the poem “One Solitary Life” by James Allan Francis (1864-1928), a Baptist minister from New York. The poem was hardly noticed in Francis‘ lifetime, but it resurfaced in the 70s in Christmas greeting cards, fittingly from an “anonymous” author, and made its way into the popular Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes — a must-see New York tradition every December.
We first encountered this rendering of the poem live, when Christopher and Anne were little and Marti was marketing the traveling version of the show, landing us front row seats and an opportunity to skate in the famous ice rink at Rockefeller Center. The evening was made memorable to us not only by the great seats, but the back stage tour of the Music Hall’s amazing system of elevators and movable stages — so advanced for its time that the U.S. Navy incorporated identical hydraulics in constructing World War II aircraft carriers. We shared a memorable ride on one of those elevators with a camel; part of the show’s live nativity that concludes the event and showcases Francis’s poem.
That evening also provided us with one our most cherished family memories, when Anne, being forced against her will to wear a black velvet dress made especially for the occasion by her “Auntie Gay,” exerted her own will by trading out the black patent Mary Jane shoes her mother bought her for her familiar dirty white sneakers. We knew we were in New York, when, coming out of a restroom, Anne was met by a fur-clad, elegant New Yorker who looked her over and promptly uttered, “Love the dress … lose the shoes!”
Somehow the shoes and the dress were a fitting contrast capturing the show’s conclusion, a lavish live nativity scene punctuated by the reading of “One Solitary Life,” which I include here as reminder of the humble nature, yet powerful influence, of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One Solitary Life
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty when public opinion turned against him
He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself
He was only thirty-three
His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth
When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend
Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life
Dr James Allan Francis © 1926.