Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"The Gift of God's Birth: Returning Love for Love"
Homily for Christmas Day
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
25 December 2010
Year A

O. Henry was the pen name of the author and poet William Sydney Porter. He was born in Greensboro, NC on September 11, 1862 and died in NYC on June 5, 1910. He was a rather sickly man and lived a somewhat sketchy life. In fact, he was indicted and found guilty of embezzlement and served three years in prison. He was probably best known, however, for his short stories – none being more famous than that of “The Gift of the Magi” – probably not all that unfamiliar to many of us.

The story centers around a poor couple – Jim and his wife Della. The young couple is madly in love but are so poor they can barely afford their one room apartment. Nonetheless, each one wants to get something wonderful for the other for Christmas. Della’s pride is her long, beautiful hair. Jim simply treasures the gold pocket watch that had once belonged to both his father and grandfather. On Christmas Eve, the two of them are trying to find the perfect gift for each other. Della slowly approaches a wig maker and offers to sell him her golden-brown hair. In minutes, it has all been cut away leaving only the fringe curls. But with the money she decides to buy Jim a one-of-a-kind platinum gold chain for his watch.

What about Jim? What would he do? He arrives home with his present for Della. His facial expression reveals a mixture of surprise and sorrow as he hands her his gift. In the small box he handed to his bride is a set of exquisite shell combs for her hair that Della has long admired. To purchase the combs, however, Jim had to part with something very precious and valuable to him. He had to sell his gold pocket watch. Neither the combs nor the chain could be used that Christmas. But that didn’t matter because what they did, they did out of love for each other.

The event of our Lord’s birth in human history resonates well with this story penned by O. Henry so many years ago. Jim and Della experience the pain of being poor and out of a sincere love for each other they sacrifice the things that were truly valuable to them. In their humility, they were able to strengthen their love for each other. Jesus too is born into poverty. He comes to us without any ostentation, encouraging us to be humble and not to depend on material things. As St. Josemaria Escriva once wrote:

“God humbled himself to allow us to get near him, so that we could give our love in exchange for his, so that our freedom might bow, not at the sight of his power merely, but before the wonder of his humility.”

And who are the first to have this unique privilege of bowing before the Christ-child? None other than the shepherds. Why? Perhaps because they too are poor and live simple, humble lives. They would not be troubled at finding the Messiah in a cold, dark cave and wrapped in swaddling clothes. It is about those shepherds that the Prophet Isaiah referred: “those who dwell in darkness have seen a great light.” Naturally, the shepherds would not have departed for Bethlehem without packing gifts for the newborn baby. In those days, and this is still a small part of our own culture, it was inconceivable to present oneself before a respected and honored person without a gift. But what would they bring? They were merely shepherds – not kings. They would have brought what they had, things valuable to them – cheese, lamb, butter, milk, curd. From their own poverty, they give what they have. Upon their arrival, Mary and Joseph welcome them; invite them in to sing to Him, hold Him, and to lay their gifts beside the manger.

In similar fashion, like the shepherds, the past four weeks of Advent we have been on a journey to Bethlehem as well. Upon our arrival to this day, having made the journey to Mass and upon our meeting with the newborn king within the recesses of our own hearts, what have we brought with us? What gift have we given Jesus this year? Do we give to Him out of our surplus so that what we give isn’t really a sacrifice or thoughtful or meaningful? Or have we brought ourselves – our whole livelihood, have we given to Him from the very depths of our hearts? Have we come with hearts overjoyed at the news of His birth? Maybe we have come a little unprepared, we have not thought about a gift for Jesus this year. That’s OK, there is still time because although we celebrate today the birth of our Savior in human history – we recognize how He comes to us each and everyday in the Holy Eucharist. Some two thousand years ago God came among us as a human being. Today He comes to us through the Sacraments of Church and is present to us – His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – in the Eucharist. In his homily on Christmas night in 1980 Pope John Paul II commented:

“It does not matter that on this first night, the night of God’s birth, the joy of that event should have reached only a few hearts: it does not matter. It is destined for every human heart! It is the joy of the whole human race, a superhuman joy! Could there be any greater joy than this, any greater Good News than this: man has been accepted by God…?”

On that Christmas Eve night, Jim and Della found that they meant more to each other than things; that their love for each other was more important to them then material objects. They were disappointed over the loss of their possessions but rather overjoyed by their love. The night of God’s birth reveals to us that we mean everything to Him, that we have not been abandoned by God and the true meaning of love. On this holy night in Bethlehem God gave to us the greatest gift of all – the gift of Himself to us. A gift He continues to give in the Holy Eucharist. How can we return such a gift? How can we thank Him? Perhaps we give Him something that is truly valuable to us, the one thing that is the most precious and guarded of all – our hearts. This Christmas and everyday thereafter, our gift to Jesus is a heart open to His love, a heart more devoted, a heart more cheerful and selfless, a heart that gives in the same way that He does.


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, MA


Return to multimedia home...

siervas_logo_color.jpg (14049 bytes)
Return to homepage:
This page is a work of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary