Christmas: The Giver’s Feast
In his homily for 4th Sunday of Advent, Year C, Father Hanly has wonderful advice for all of us about Christmas and tells his much-loved basketball story.
First Reading: Micah 5:1-4
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
Christmas, of course, is many things, and I’m sure everybody has their own memories. But one thing I think that can be said about Christmas, and maybe this is the right Sunday to say it, is that Christmas is a day that has a certain kind of atmosphere about it.
It creates its own atmosphere. (Inaudible), because of all the commercialization going on. And yet the playing of the carols, and all the beautiful ornaments, and things like that, lighten our hearts and are part of the season.
Also it’s a time when we look forward to large families getting together, perhaps, or old friends coming and exchanging greetings.
It has its own atmosphere, and the atmosphere, at its best, is an atmosphere of kindliness, an atmosphere of compassion, and an atmosphere of forgiveness.
I was reading about an old British man in his little castle in England. And he had a daughter that had moved to Ireland. And she was in Ireland for a few years and they just weren’t talking because father and daughter had their difficulties. And both being quite stubborn, there was just this long silence.
And, finally, on Christmas, about two weeks before Christmas, he picked up the phone (and this is a man who is very, very hard to reach), he picked up the phone and invited her back to her home for the Christmas holidays. She was so overwhelmed she couldn’t believe it, because he had never shown an ounce of moving in that direction. And she was happy, and she went, and they spent Christmas together.
It’s time to do that now, you know. Look around at your relatives and friends. Maybe give it a try. Because you should take advantage of the Christmas season. It is a built-in time for doing things like this. It’s a time for forgiving. Let bygones be bygones. It’s a time when little pains give way to cheerful greetings and calling up people and getting back in touch with those that have kind of slipped by.
This would be what Christmas means. And this is what it means and this is very deep. It’s not just a kind way of a nice thing we do on holidays like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
This is because God has made this feast day a feast of love. And until you touch love, you are not celebrating Christmas.
And best way to touch love is to touch God’s love.
And God’s love is what?
God’s love is forgiving. God’s love is caring. God is on the side of joy, on the side of happiness.
With great compassion, God so loves the world that He sends His Only Son. This is His Christmas gift. And He knows what is going to happen. He knows that He will see His Only Son suffering on the cross. And His hands are tied and He can do nothing.
And so the sacrifice is very real. And in human terms. And this is one of the reasons why Jesus comes and God becomes man: because He wants to experience as a human being the humanity of the people that He Himself has created.
And so Christmas is a great time.
It’s a time for all the silly little things that go with it: the little parties, and this and that and the other thing, and the cards and all the rest.
But it’s also a part of the deep understanding of the presence of God Himself among us, a presence that is not just for Christmas, but will carry us through not just the season, and not just our lives, but into all eternity.
So, if you’ve been putting things off, like that card, or you have someone in your mind that you say, “Well, maybe I should invite them to the family meal,” or whatever you do, remember you are doing it because God is in your heart and He is whispering to you and He is saying, “This is what it means to be a Christian: to learn how to love, to learn how to care, to learn how to reach out in all the small things.”
And now I’ll tell you just a little story. This story is one I usually tell at Christmas time, because it is about my father. Christmas and my father are the same thing in my mind.
There was one Christmas. I can tell you the exact date: December 25th, 1945. The war had ended. And I was in my early teens and the passion in my life was to have a basketball. I would die for a basketball. For two reasons.
Number one is I loved to play basketball.
But the other reason was if you could play basketball in our neighborhood, which was a tough neighborhood, you could play the violin without anybody asking anything or having to apologize. You could be a very kind and nice person without everybody saying, “Ne ne ne ne” like they do when kids get together. You could be your own king of the block if you could play basketball, because everybody in our neighborhood respected a basketball player.
So, the basketball cost ten dollars. That seems like hardly anything. Ten dollars U.S. I guess it’s around eighty dollars in our change right now.
And I couldn’t ask my father for it. Because my father, if you asked him for it, he’d give it right away, you see. And my mother told me, “Don’t you ever ask your father for anything.” Why? Because he had to hunt around for the extra ten dollars, you see.
Anyhow, I prayed to the Blessed Mother, and I prayed to St. Denis, and I prayed to everybody that I could possibly pray to.
And I kept, when I was with my father, I dropped little hints like: “Yeah, do you know anything about basketball?”
And he was from Ireland and he said, “Yes, it looks like a very interesting game.”
I said, “Yes.” But he never asked why we were talking like this.
Anyhow, Christmas time came, and among the toys there was one box. And I knew right away it was big enough and square enough to hold just one thing, which was a basketball.
So I very carefully took it from under the tree and I opened it. And as soon as I looked inside…
It wasn’t a basketball. It was an English soccer ball. (Congregation laughs.)
Can you image? It was an English soccer ball. He didn’t know the difference between a basketball and a soccer ball.
And my heart just fell. And I kept trying to say, “I am not going to ruin his Christmas. He’s too (inaudible).” And I’m trying to be polite.
And he keeps saying, “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you?”
And I say, “Nothing’s wrong with me. Everything’s fine. Everything is wonderful.”
And then he took me aside and he said, “It’s the basketball.”
And I said, “It is.”
And he said, “What’s wrong with it?”
I said, “It is not a basketball.” (Congregation laughs again.)
But I didn’t know this: you could take it back, you see, if you hadn’t played with it, and you could bring it back to the store and they’d exchange it.
And so he said to me, right away he said, “Tomorrow morning, we’re going to go right to that store. We’re going to take this ball and we’re going to get you a basketball.”
Simple story, you know, but Christmas is a time when you can be terribly disappointed. And it goes with the season, because your hopes are on something and you become a little bit disappointed. This is true not only of children, but of adults and everyone else.
So remember: Christmas is the time when you think not about the basketball; you think about the giver. You think about the goodness and the kindness of people who will give you these gifts and will try to show by these gifts that they care and they love you.
So be generous-hearted and open-hearted. And if you open up the box and it’s an English soccer ball, find a child and he will be delighted to have it for his very own.
Christmas is here. Christmas is the giver’s feast.
Why the giver’s feast?
Because God is a giver not a taker. Jesus is a giver not a taker. Mary says, “Yes!” and gives her whole life. Joseph says, “Yes!” and takes her into his house.
And the whole world celebrates all these givers. No money, no gain, nothing but the simple gift of themselves.
And with that, the whole world changes.
Information about Father Hanly’s homily for 4th Sunday of Advent, Year C
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Father Hanly’s homily for 4th Sunday of Advent, Year C, was delivered on 20th December 2009.
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