MEMO TO MY DEAR FRIENDS BEHIND BARS:
I always struggle at this time of the year, wondering what kind of wishes I could send your way. It seems just plain wrong to wish you “Happy Holidays,” when I’m fully aware of the conditions around you.
I know you won’t receive gifts, I know you’ll receive few if any greeting cards. If statistics are correct, there’s a good chance that you won’t get a Christmas visit. The many and varied reports that we have received over the years regarding holiday meals haven’t been good. There’s no reason to believe your Christmas dinner will be any better this year.
While I completely understand why this is possibly not a pleasant time for you, I’d like to encourage you to take a second look. I contend “the reason for the season” has importance specifically for YOU!
I got thinking about this last Sunday, when our pastor pointed out the difference between the words “sympathy” and “empathy.”
You see, I can have sympathy for you, because I’m saddened that you must exist under these conditions.
But this Jesus, whose birth we celebrate in December, has empathy for you because he can personally identify with all of your issues, all of your struggles. To quote an overused and overworked statement, he’s “been there and done that.”
Think you were born under unpleasant conditions? His parents were virtually homeless when it came time for Mary to give birth. Someone finally made space in what, today, would probably be considered a garage.
Have family and friends pretty much abandoned you since your incarceration? He was despised and rejected by his own people.
Did the so-called “justice system” treat you unfairly? His trial was a mockery.
Were you wrongly convicted? He was not only wrongly convicted, but wrongly executed.
Having trouble forgiving yourself for the crime that put you there? That’s why he came.
Thinking that this might be the last chapter in your life, and you didn’t want it to end this way? That’s why he came.
That’s Jesus, whose birthday I encourage you to join with me in celebrating. Yep, actually celebrating! It may seem like no one else cares for those behind bars, (although I do!), but we have every assurance that he cares!
His words: He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.