Christmas Day Mass

I want to tell you a story, an allegory, about Christmas. Once there was a very young girl, the only child of her widowed mother. On a chilly morning in December, as she gathered sticks for firewood, she happened upon a leather pouch full of gold coins. Running home, jumping with joy, twirling around, she gave her mother the treasure she found. Together they counted the coins, fifteen of them. The girl couldn’t stand still. She danced, she smiled, she laughed, she waved her arms in the air.  But her mother, being an honest woman, sighed deeply and said, “My child, this money does not belong to us. Go back and try to find the rightful owner. Perhaps you will receive a reward.”  The girl, in shock, returned with heavy steps along the path where she found the pouch.

Villagers were coming and going, wishing each other a Merry Christmas here and a Merry Christmas there. About noon a rich man came down the path, turning his head this way and that, searching for something. The girl stepped forward and asked very timidly, “Sir, what are you looking for?” “A purse,” he replied, “I’ve lost my purse.” The young girl held out the pouch of gold coins and asked, “Is this your purse?” “It certainly is,” he replied, and snatched it from her hand. She looked at him expectantly, but the man was a miser.  He didn’t want to give a reward. After counting the coins he turned a mean eye toward the girl, and said loud enough for those passing by to hear, “I had twenty gold coins. Where are the other five?” “But sir,” the girl replied trembling, “there were only fifteen.” Grabbing her by the shoulders, the ungrateful miser shouted, “Give back the five gold coins you have stolen!”

People gathered when they heard the child crying and proclaiming her innocence as the man shook her vigorously. Just then the local magistrate came forth from the midst of the crowd and stepped between the girl and the man. “Did you count the coins yourself?” he asked her. “Yes,” she sobbed, “and my mother, too.”  The judge called for the mother and when she came he asked her how many coins were in the purse. “Fifteen,” she said. The rich merchant bellowed out, “They’re lying! I had twenty gold coins.”

The wise magistrate looked up and down at the well dressed man in his fine clothes, and then at the poor widow with her ragtag daughter. He pondered for a moment. A serious look crossed his face as he asked the angry puffy-jowled merchant, “Are you absolutely certain there were twenty gold coins in your purse?”  He replied, “Yes, of course I am.”  Turning to the mother and child, the judge smiled and said, “The merchant assures me he lost a purse containing twenty gold coins. This one has only fifteen. Clearly, it cannot be the same one. Since no one has come forward to claim a lost purse with fifteen coins you may keep this one. The case is closed.” At this judgment the crowd broke into cheers and the miser went away shamed and undone by his own greed.  

The story is an allegory.  The miser is Satan who lost his divine treasure and became the adversary of God and humanity. The wise magistrate is Christ, judge of the living and the dead, who saves us from the clutches of Satan. Like the good judge in the story, Christ graciously bestows on us a treasure of immense value beyond all imagining. No matter how many coins we take from this purse it never becomes empty, because it is infinite, it is God’s divine nature which Jesus shares with us, making us children of God.

The gospel says it all: “The Word came into the world, and to all who received him he gave power to become children of God. … The Word became flesh and dwelt among us … from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.