For as long as I can remember, I’ve opened my eyes to the day at hand with words of gratitude on my lips. This is no indication of piety on my part. My mom taught me long ago to be grateful for what I have. I decided then and there to express my thanks for each new day and all that it might bring. Doing so first thing in the morning assured me that my bases were covered. I’d taken my mom’s lesson to heart and I’d acknowledged God’s generosity -not a bad way for a little kid to start her day.
I admit that it didn’t take me long to question my mother’s seemingly boundless appreciation for this life. My own grief kept me from acknowledging my mom’s pain at the time. It was years later that I wondered how she endured the losses of her brother, her dad and her husband within a three year span. Though my brother, my four sisters and I kept her busy, I’m not sure that caring for us sustained her in her sorrow. Yet, remarkably, my mother continued to live with gratitude. This gratitude manifested itself in uncommon generosity. In spite of the tough times that resulted from my dad’s untimely passing, my mom often acknowledged that there were many others who were more needy than we were. I found this difficult to believe at times. Nonetheless, I admired my mother’s ability to give so freely of her meager treasure and of herself.
It occurs to me that my mother survived her life’s trials because she embraced her life’s blessings. She moved beyond her sadness, nurtured her gratitude and lived generously because she truly appreciated her time on this earth. My mother took pride in who she was and she did her best to present her best to the world. My mother loved her family and the friends she found outside of her home. She and her sisters continued their frequent outings together until she and her older sister were in their eighties. She maintained friendships with high school classmates for almost as long. My mother found joy in babysitting for her grandchildren, sewing for the veterans and socializing at the senior center. When each step down the hall became a challenge, my mother still found joy when she finally arrived for the day’s Bingo Game. Even as she lay waiting to make her final journey home, my mother smiled as we gathered at her bedside to whisper our good-byes. Not long afterward, she passed peacefully to embrace the life for which she’d been in training.
This Second Sunday of Advent, I find that my mother’s approach to life aligns quite nicely with Isaiah’s message (Isaiah 40:1-5; 9-11). God’s people have endured intolerable misery for a very long time. Today, the prophet tells them, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated…” Through Isaiah, God assures the people that their iniquity is forgiven. Isaiah tells them it is time to welcome God back into their midst. The prophet offers his brothers and sisters God’s invitation to turn their lives around for the long haul. Not only must they rejoice in this positive turn of events; they must also rejoice in every moment they are given. God is with them and God will provide for them in all things. They need nothing more to live this life to the full. In the second reading (2 Peter 3:8-14), Peter echoes Isaiah’s call to look to the Lord for all that we need when he tells us, “The Lord does not delay his promise…” Mark’s gospel (Mark 1:1-8) also references Isaiah with words carefully chosen to underscore the importance of Jesus’ coming. Mark quotes John the Baptizer who tells us, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Indeed, God walks among us.
This Second Sunday of Advent, Isaiah echoes my mom’s challenge to live with gratitude, with generosity and with joy. Though I begin every day with a prayer of thanks for the blessings of this life, I sometimes miss the joy in the moments that follow. Though I’ve emulated my mom’s generosity as best I can, I’ve sometimes missed the joy of God’s presence in these moments of giving. This Advent provides each of us the opportunity to revisit Isaiah’s and my mother’s challenge. For the days that remain until Christmas and every day thereafter, you and I are called to be grateful, to be generous and to find joy in all that we do. God is truly with us and it is up to us to live accordingly!
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