November 27, 2022; Matthew 24:37-44; The First Sunday of Advent
From the time she became an adult, Mary sent out Christmas cards. Each year she would save one card for herself, so that she would have a record of which card she had sent out every year. In a relatively short amount of time, Mary had a sizeable box of cards. If you looked in that box, you would find that the first card she had sent was really very humble, a postcard that she had picked up at some discount store in order to stay in touch with her college roommates who she was missing. After a few years you would find the simple manger scene that she and her husband, Bill, had picked out together to mark their first Christmas as a married couple. As you moved through the box, the cards would become more elaborate, sometimes having the picture of a new house or a new child. In time, the cards became custom made with a large photograph of the family, Mary’s children and grandchildren all gathered together for some special occasion. Each year the number of Christmas cards increased, because there were always new friends, neighbors, business associates, and families of her children’s friends.
After 51 years of marriage, her husband, Bill, succumbed to cancer and went to God. The Christmas card Mary sent out that year was both simple and bittersweet. As the years passed, there were fewer cards to send because of death, divorce, or just losing touch. By her 80th Christmas Mary had moved out of the family home and entered an assisted living facility. Although that required her to down-size, she took her box of Christmas cards with her. Just before her 85th Christmas, Mary asked her daughter if she would come and take her shopping for the holidays. When her daughter came to pick her up, Mary was waiting in the lobby of the facility with her shopping list and a few envelopes. “Honey, can we mail these?” she said. “Of course, Mom, we’ll stop at the post office on our way.” Then Mary said quietly, “I remember how at one time we used to send out over a hundred Christmas cards a year. Today I am mailing eight. All our friends are gone.” Her daughter embraced her. “I know, Mom. I know.”
One can trace the arc of a human life through a box of Christmas cards. Like the season of Advent that we begin today, Christmas can be used to mark the milestones of our lives: our baby’s first Christmas, our Christmas in Canada, the first Christmas without Dad. The passing of time reveals a definite contour to life. It is small at the beginning, full in the middle, and small again at the end. Whether you send out Christmas cards or not, if you are fortunate enough to live into your nineties, you will only have a handful to mail.
Reflecting upon the arc of human life reminds us that each day we live is both precious and passing. That is why Jesus tells his disciples in today’s gospel, “Stay awake.” Don’t take any day of your life for granted. If you are young at the beginning of life, embrace your potential with enthusiasm, believing that God will walk with you and guide your way. If you find yourself in the midst of life, caught between work and family, juggling career and trips to the soccer field to watch your children’s games, never forget the blessings which support you or how much with God’s help you are able to accomplish. If you find yourself in a place where the end of life is on the horizon, stay awake to the abiding presence of God in your life. Face each day not as a challenge but as a gift. Remain open not only to the things you know but to the things that might surprise you. Cherish the relationships in your life that remain.
Each day of our lives is both precious and passing. Every day has a unique blessing of its own. So stay awake. Do not let the blessing of today pass you by.