The tradition of exchanging Christmas cards is fading fast. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force

Francis Campbell: Invitation from Jesus open all year round

  • December 21, 2018

Christmas packages come in all sorts, shapes and sizes.

Some arrive with great anticipation, others are a total surprise.

File the first and greatest Christmas gift in the surprise category. 

Sure, there had been prophecies and some rumblings among those chosen few who had been forewarned by angels, but the sort and shape of the Saviour who arrived on the first Christmas morning would have been a total surprise to most.

A baby born in a stable to a virgin. Now, that’s an unusual Christmas gift and miracle.

Many gifts are much more predictable.

Take the two Ontario friends in their late 70s who have been exchanging the same Christmas card for decades.

A CBC story from December of last year tells the tale of the Christmas tradition that had been going for nearly 65 years. It seems that a 13-year-old Art Clarke, living in Toronto in 1953, decided to send out Christmas cards to six friends. All of the cards were identical and included a lucky coin and an invitation to the receiver to return it to the sender.

Only one of Clarke’s friend took him up on the invitation. David Harding, then living in Minden, Ont., sent the card back and kicked off the decades-long tradition. The card makes its way from one of the men to the other every Christmas. 

“Every year, we sign the card and date it,” indicating where it is being sent from, Clarke told CBC. 

Harding, a bank manager who worked in Oshawa, Ottawa, Whitby and Windsor,  always took the time to return the card to his childhood friend. It was first posted 65 years ago with a one-cent stamp. As the years passed, the men began sending it by registered mail and Clarke said it cost him $10 to mail the card last year from his home in Bracebridge, Ont., to Harding’s home near St. Thomas, Ont.

Although they are vigilant in their card exchange, the two friends apparently don’t talk much. 

“This is the way we greet each other and we haven’t seen each other for over 50 years,” Clarke said. 

Neither do they communicate by e-mail, but Harding admits surprise that Christmas cards are still being sent by anyone, anywhere.

“More and more, people seem to be sending e-mail cards,” he said. “I don’t think it will be that many years before there are no such things as Christmas cards.”

Harding, as it turns out, seems to be a proponent of long-distance and long-lasting Christmas card exchanges. He swaps cards with friends in Halifax and British Columbia and the Halifax interchange has endured for nearly 40 years.

“I just love the tradition of Christmas cards and the ambiance and the nostalgia, something sadly lacking today,” he said.

The tradition of Christmas is giving. On the first Christmas, God offered the unparalleled gift of His only Son so all could gain redemption from sin that separates us from God. 

At Christmas and throughout the year, we are continuously sent the invitation to seek a relationship with Jesus or to strengthen an already existing connection. With each ensuing advent of our lives, the invitation from Jesus is renewed. 

Unlike the Christmas card that has been exchanged exclusively for six decades, the Jesus invitation probably appears different each time it is offered. Jesus knows the areas in our lives that are lacking, the sins and flaws that prevent us from enjoying an intimate relationship with Him. His invitation, then, focuses on giving us the opportunity and the help to move past those faults.

The only part we have to play in this Christmas exchange is to simply accept the invitation from Jesus and get to work to make it happen.

Just as Art Clarke decided to reach out to a group of childhood friends and to send them an invitation, God sends out His invitations at Christmastime and throughout the year. The invitation goes to many but it is open-ended, not at all demanding or forceful.

The recipient can then ignore the invitation or consider it and respond to it. But if we do not accept the invitation, as David Harding did in accepting his young friend’s Christmas card enticement, the opportunity is lost. The other five friends of Clarke who spurned his Christmas card invitation and the potential relationships that could potentially have been strengthened, were probably cast adrift.

By extending and embracing the invitation and then making the effort and sacrifice to keep the Christmas card exchange alive, Clarke and Harding fostered a growing relationship.

We would be well advised to follow their lead in saying yes when offered the ultimate Christmas gift.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax-Chronicle Herald.)

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