Christmas and Giving Your Whole Self
In this beautiful homily for Midnight Mass for Christmas, Year C, Father Hanly talks about the meaning of Christmas and then, as it’s Christmas, he tells us a story.
Readings for Midnight Mass for Christmas, Year C
- First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 96:1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
- Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14
- Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
I’ve always had a special feeling for Christmas, because it’s my first memory as a child.
And it was like this: my father lifting me up in this little shack. It was during the Depression in a far off place on Long Island called Brentwood. And he lifted me up and there were bright lights in front of me — flames, really flames — and there was a Christmas tree and he wanted me to see it.
I could tell it was my father, because I could smell the smoke. You see he was a smoker.
And these two images have always kind of been a part of every Christmas: I can see my father coming through the smoke, holding me up to the bright Christmas tree lights.
And it was my very first impression as a child. I was only maybe not quite three, two or so.
The reason I mention that is because this is what Christmas is.
It’s family. It’s fathers. It’s mothers. It’s children.
It’s learning how to love. It’s learning how to care. It’s learning how to be the kind of people that we really want to be and we know we can be if we just have enough faith in ourselves and faith in the people around us.
It’s a wonderful feast. I mean it’s just so extraordinary, it’s unbelievable. Here is God Himself, creator of all the universe, and He decides to send His Son to become man.
And the child comes where?
He comes to a hopeless little village in a forgotten country under the oppression of a foreign power.
He comes not as a scholar with wonderful teachings. He does not come as someone who is a huge leader of armies. He does not come with strength and power and dazzling display.
He comes as a little baby, a baby, a needy child.
And we wonder why, why does his Father feel that this is the place to show the reality of God to all His creatures?
For, make no mistake, the child is something very special. He’s the Son of God. He is God made flesh.
And the cry of the Jewish people, “Emmanuel! Emmanuel! God is with us,” now takes on a very deeper meaning.
For, when the child comes, it’s God Himself, with us, deeply within and sharing deeply our very lives, our joys, our happiness, our fears, our anxieties.
And this is what it means to come today before this little child.
Why did He have to do it this way? Why couldn’t He have done it the other ways?
Because He came to teach us only one thing and that was how to love.
And love demands weakness, not strength. Love demands the recognition in your heart you need people. You need those people around you. You need them in the depths of your own heart.
And God has come to show you that this is what He does. He creates us with a hunger for love, that we might hunger for Him and hunger for others.
Christmas is a bit of a trick. It’s a bit of a trick in the sense that it seems like nothing happens, and yet the whole world changes.
It means that God Himself reveals Himself, not in power, not in strength, but in weakness.
And what are we supposed to do?
What Jesus has told us.
God loves the whole world so much that He gives His only begotten Son and, in turn, the Son loves this world so much that he lays down his life for each and every one of us.
And God’s love is the only thing that will change the world.
So Christmas is a matter of the heart, not just the head. It’s the heart. If the heart opens and receives the God who comes needy and vulnerable, and takes this God to himself/herself, then, and only then, will the world change.
And that is why Jesus says, “I love you as my friends and now there is only one commandment: that you learn to love each other as I have loved you.”
This is the wonder of Christmas.
And what does that mean?
Well, practically speaking, it means we have to give of ourselves. Give everything.
Because when this poor man comes into the world, he asks everything. He’s a greedy little child who asks that we turn our whole hearts and minds and souls to him. And then we will know (inaudible) who we are and where we are and what we must do.
And now, because it’s Christmas time, I’ll tell you a story. Many of you might know this story. It’s my favourite Christmas story, because my father told it to me when I was a little child and I can remember it still.
The story is about a little juggler, the juggler of Notre Dame. Notre Dame is a basilica in Paris. And outside the basilica there was this little poor man and he was a juggler.
He was a street juggler. That meant that every morning he would go out in front of Notre Dame and he would put a little flat rug down and he would start juggling. And he’d put his hat there hoping people would throw a few coins in.
And the juggler was a simple man and he was a very poor man.
And one of the people passing by said, “Little man, it’s winter time now, you’re going to be very cold,” as they could see he wasn’t really dressed too well.
So they said to him, “Why don’t you go to the monastery in the next village?
“We know at the monastery the monks are known to be very kind and they will take you in during this Christmas time because the holidays are very cold for those who do not have the love and warmth of Christmas people who will take them in.”
So the little fellow goes and he knocks at the door.
And the monk opens the door and he says, “What can I do?”
He said, “Well, I need a place to spend Christmas, and I have nothing except this bag.” And in the bag he had all the balls that he used to juggle.
So the monk was very kind and he brought him to the Abbot.
And the Abbot was very kind and he brought him to a room. And they gave him a room.
And they said to him, “Now I’m going to take you on a little trip,” not the Abbot but the other monk, “I’ll take you on a little trip around the monastery and show you what a wonderful place the monastery is.”
So he takes him first to the kitchen. And there is cooking up a huge meal, because it’s Christmas Eve and he is going to have the most finest pastries and cakes possible for after Midnight Mass.
And so he introduces him and the little juggler is very impressed. He gets a chance to taste one of the cookies and he said, “Wow this is going to be wonderful.”
Then they go to the music room and there is another monk and he is the leader of the choir and he’s also a composer. And he’s written a new piece of music for Mother Mary and they’re going to sing it at Midnight Mass.
And so he’s so happy that he sings a bit of it to the little juggler. Oh, the juggler is so happy.
Then they go out into the outside of the monastery and he shows him the place where the farmers are farming, and they talk to him about growing the wheat and all of this.
And everybody in the monastery is getting ready for Christmas.
And then the little juggler goes into his room and he lays down and he’s very happy.
And it suddenly dawns on him he has got nothing to give the little baby Jesus at Christmas time, nothing at all.
And then, as he lays there in his bed and the time draws on and it becomes very late, maybe early morning, he decides what he is going to do.
In this monastery, there was a very, very famous Madonna and child statue. And it was in the chapel. And the monk had already shown him where it was.
So what he did was, at three o’clock in the morning, he ran down, with his little bag, and he went into the chapel and he threw his rug in front of the Blessed Mother, and she’s holding the baby Jesus, and he begins to juggle.
And he’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
Now nobody could go to ten in those days, no more than ten. The last one was a gold one.
But finally he got all ten going and he’s juggling like mad and the balls are whirling through the air.
And it’s (inaudible) until the brother comes and he looks in to see what’s happening.
And he runs to the Abbot and he says “Abbot, the little juggler has gone crazy. He’s down in the church and he’s juggling in the middle of this wonderful church in front of the Blessed Mother. You must go down and do something.”
So the Abbot runs down and he sees the juggler juggling. And just before he’s going to stop him, he decides, no, he won’t.
And so the juggler keeps juggling for a little bit more time. And finally the juggler is so tired and weary that he falls down in a faint.
And then what happens?
As the Abbot begins to walk towards the juggler he stops, because the Blessed Mother comes down from her pedestal, carries the little boy Jesus and brings him to the poor little juggler laying there.
And the little boy picks up the gold ball, the last gold ball, and he puts it in his hands.
And the Blessed Mother takes her cloth and wipes his face.
And then they both go back to the pedestal.
Now what happens is the little man was very, very sick and, after he fainted, they couldn’t bring him to again, and he had died and passed away.
Now, that morning at Mass, the Abbot got up and said, “We were so busy, so busy preparing for Christmas time, and each one of us had something to offer.
“The musicians were going to play, the choir were going to sing, the cooks were going to cook, etc, etc.
“But, no matter how good it was, what we were going to give, this little man gave more than all of us, for he gave his whole heart and his whole soul.”
And so goes the story and, if you go to Paris, you can find the little monastery and you can find the little church where the little juggler of Paris died on the floor.
And also they will tell you the story that what God wants from us is nothing more than our whole heart and our whole soul given to Him and to be shared by others.
That is the meaning of Christmas.
And if we do it, and we do it, not just learn to do it but learn to do it well, then our lives change, and our city changes, the world changes.
Because, at the heart of healing and salvation, of love and compassion, is our gift of ourselves, not just to God, but to each other in humble service.