by Father Mark Goldasich
First, a small digression.
Don’t you just love it when you see a lesson from the Scriptures played out in today’s world? Last Sunday, we heard the angel Gabriel tell the Blessed Virgin Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.” If you had any doubts about that, I offer the following proof from about 3:30 p.m. on Sunday: (the poor, hapless) Chiefs, 19; the (previously unbeaten) Packers, 14. I’m a believer.
OK, now that that’s out of my system, let’s bring our attention back to where it should be: the celebration of Christmas. For me, stories are the best way to convey some of life’s deepest truths. As we celebrate Christ’s birth yet again, ponder this folktale from Armenia:
A rich couple and a poor couple lived next door to each other. The poor couple had a small child and was very happy. Sounds of laughter were frequently heard coming from their small home.
The rich couple had a larger home, but was rarely happy. In fact, no one heard sounds of joy coming from their house.
One day, the rich woman said to her neighbor, “You are poor. Why is it that your home is a center of joy and ours is not? Nearly every night, we can hear the sound of laughter spilling into the neighborhood from your house.”
The poor woman, with a twinkle in her eyes, said, “I guess that’s because of our ball of gold. My husband and I constantly toss it back and forth. It gives us so much happiness.”
The rich woman hurried home and told her husband, “The people next door? The ones who are always laughing? They have a gold ball that they toss back and forth all the time. Why don’t we get a gold ball for our house?”
The next day the rich husband did as his wife asked and ordered a gold ball from a craftsman. After bringing it home, the husband tried to toss it to his wife. However, the gold ball was so heavy that it not only hurt his wife’s hands, but also crashed through the wood floor. Instead of happiness, both were reduced to tears at the destruction.
The next morning, the rich woman visited her neighbor and said, “You must tell me more about your gold ball. My husband had one made, but it hurt our hands and nearly ruined our house.”
The poor woman was very apologetic.
“When I spoke to you about a gold ball,” she explained, “I was referring to our wonderful child. We literally toss him back and forth, and he squeals with laughter. To us, he is a ball of gold and fills our home with joy and love.” (Found in “Stories for the Gathering: A Treasury or Christian Storytellers,” by William R. White.)
Where is your focus this Christmas — on a Person or on a thing? As of this writing, I’ve not done a lick of Christmas shopping. I’ve been “distracted” by writing Christmas cards, celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, visiting the shut-ins and residents of two nursing facilities, baptizing children, having meals out with friends, anointing folks facing surgery, etc. The deluge of emails and ads over the past few days tell me that I’ve failed miserably: I’ve missed out on all of the great deals, the free shipping, and the other perks and incentives that merchants have been offering over the past few weeks.
Strangely, though, I don’t feel like a failure. In fact, these “distractions” from shopping have made for a pretty good Advent. They’ve helped me to focus on what is most important in this season . . . and in life: people, not things.
It’s not that physical things are bad in themselves; I will be heading out, incidentally, to get presents for people in these next few days. However, so many times things overshadow people.
This Christmas, before you even open a gift, acknowledge the giver. Look beyond the physical item, as nice as it might be. Be humbled that someone cared enough about you to give a gift, that someone put in time to pick it out, that someone sacrificed hard-earned money for your sake. Pay detailed attention to “who gave what.” Why? Because your work is not done until a thank-you note is written.
But let’s not forget the most important aspect of Christmas: the ball of gold that we’ve been given — the Christ Child. He is a gift that needs no batteries, will not wear out, never tarnishes or breaks, never needs to be upgraded and always fits. Through him we receive additional gifts of light, joy and hope.
And because of him, we still dare to believe that we can accomplish, with his grace, what so many say is impossible: Create a world in which compassion, generosity, love, peace and respect can indeed conquer all “things.”