Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas Spirit, as told by Channel 8

The producers of Channel 8 News had no idea they were giving me a lesson on the Spirit of Christmas.  But that’s exactly what happened late yesterday.

It had been a hectic and heartbreaking day at the HFP desk:  stories of wrongful conviction, shabby and callous treatment by the Parole Board, an inmate struggling with mental illness, another dealing with an embarrassing physical ailment that prevents him from even wanting to leave his cell.  As you know, this week we have been publicizing the plight of women in Michigan’s prison facility, where overcrowded conditions are making life miserable. 

Back to the 6 o’clock news.

Much of the news was dominated by presidential candidate Donald Trump, doing the thing he seems to do best:  bad-mouthing Mexicans, immigrants, women…anybody who doesn’t look like him or think like him.  And that started my thought processes in this Christmas week.  There are many people who, I’m sure, claim that they follow this Christ Child, and yet who think it’s all right to speak that way about other people.  I’m particularly sensitive to this issue, because many people speak of prisoners the same way.  After reading my blog on the subject of women’s prison overcrowding, for example, one fine citizen, cloaked in anonymity, found it important to issue this public comment:  Are you kidding me?  They are prisoners, not tenants.  If they don’t like the circumstances then tell them not to make the reservations.  They are prisoners, plain and simple.  Who cares…?

The Trump story was enough to make me mutter, “Bah.  Humbug!”

Then later in the newscast, another story…a story of compassion and forgiveness, unlike many you will ever hear in any news report.  Last August, a guy was driving down the highway blithely eating a sandwich and looking at his GPS screen when he looked up to see that traffic had come to a stop.  He hit the brakes too late, and in the ensuing crash, 13 year old David Talsma was killed.  Now, in the week of Christmas, 40 year old Travis Fox is a convicted criminal.  His life will never be the same.  But in the courtroom, he found forgiveness!  David’s parents forgave the man.  It was something they had to do.  As followers of the Baby Jesus they had no choice.  The father of the victim put his arms around the accused driver, and both grown men wept.

That, I thought, gives me a better picture of the Christmas spirit.

The ministry of the baby Jesus didn’t actually begin until 30 years after his birth…and then it lasted only 3 years.  But during that brief period, Jesus got called many of the same kind of names that people are using today to talk about Mexicans, immigrants, blacks, women, Muslims and yes, prisoners.  And the religious leaders of the day, not the criminals, put him to death!

In one of Jesus’ sermons, Dr. Luke tells us in Chapter 4:  …the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

A former broadcast newsman, I often shout at and criticize television newscasts these days.  Yesterday was different.

As we observe his birthday, I’m hoping we’ll take a moment to stop the name-calling and reflect on the life of that itinerant preacher who forever changed the world.   

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