The next two stories have a theme common in Christmas tales from around the world. All retell the parable given in Matthew 25:40: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
There was once in a faraway country a wonderful church with a gray stone tower, with ivy growing over it as far up as one could see. In the tower was a chime of Christmas bells.
Every Christmas eve, all the people of the city brought to the church their offerings to the Christ Child. When the greatest and best offering was laid on the altar, there would come sounding through the music of the choir the voices of the Christmas Chimes far up in the tower. Some said the wind rang them, and other that they were so high that the angels could set them swinging.
But the fact was that no one had heard the chimes for years and years. There was an old man living not far from the church who said that his mother had spoken of hearing them when she was a little girl. But now it was said the people had been growing less careful of their gifts to the Christ Child, and that no offering was brought great enough to deserve the music of the chimes.
A number of miles from the city, in a little country village, lived a boy named Pedro and his little brother. The day before Christmas was bitterly cold, but the two boys started on their way to the Christmas celebration. Before nightfall they had trudged so far, hand in hand, that they saw the lights of the big city just ahead of them. Indeed, they were about to enter one of the great gates in the wall that surrounded it when they saw something on the dark snow near their path, and stepped aside to look at it. It was a poor woman who had fallen just outside the city, too sick and tired and cold to get in where she might have found shelter. Pedro, finding that he could not rouse her, said, “It’s no use, little brother. You will have to go alone to the church.”
“Alone?” cried the little brother. “And you will not see the great Christmas festival?”
“No,” said Pedro, and he could not help a little choking sound of disappointment in his throat. “See this poor woman, her face looks like the Madonna in the chapel window and she will freeze to death if nobody cares for her. If you get a chance, little brother, to slip up to the altar without getting in anyone’s way, take this little silver piece of mine and lay it down for my offering, when no one is looking.”
The great church was truly a wonderful place that night. After the service, the people took their gifts to the altar for the Christ Child. Some brought wonderful jewels; some baskets of gold so heavy that they could scarcely carry them down the aisle. A great writer laid down a book that he had been making for years and years. And last of all walked the king of the country, hoping with all the rest to win for himself the chime of the Christmas bells.
There was a great murmur through the church as the people saw the king take from his head the royal crown, all set with diamonds and other precious stones, and lay it gleaming on the altar as his offering to the Holy Child. “Surely,” they said, “we shall hear the bells now.” But the chimes did not ring.
The procession was over. The gifts were all on the altar, and the choir had begun the closing hymn. Suddenly, the organist stopped playing, and everyone looked at the old minister, who was standing in his place and holding up his hand for silence. As the people strained their ears to listen, there came softly but distinctly, swinging through the air, the sound of the bells in the tower! So far away and yet so clear seemed the music, so much sweeter were the notes than anything else that had been heard before, rising and falling away up there in the sky, that the people in the church sat for a moment very still. Then they all stood up together and stared at the altar to see what great gift had awakened the long-silent bells.
But all that the nearest of them saw was the childish figure of Pedro’s brother, who had crept softly down the aisle when no one was looking and had laid Pedro’s little piece of silver on the altar.