This time of year is a magical time with its lights and music in celebration of the baby Jesus. It’s a time of family coming home to be with each other, a time of giving and sharing. Everywhere you go you hear someone say, Merry Christmas as you leave their sight. This year on Christmas Eve was a very different one from any I have ever had. I remember the first year without my grandparents, which was a hard one. And the first year my dad and step mom didn’t come to Kentucky for Christmas. I am sure there are ones you can think of that stick out in your mind. But I want to tell you of the one I spent in prison with 61 female inmates in the State Penitentiary, Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia Kentucky.
When we arrived at the visitor’s center where church is held, the chairs were already set into rows, a lot of rows. Two girls sat in the empty room. As we entered into the room, we were aware many were anticipated to attend. Very soon you could see them walking down the sidewalk, you couldn’t see the end of the line. I was the first one at the door to greet them, with gloves on; I looked into each face and smiled. Many replied with, “Merry Christmas,” some said, “glad you are here.” I was so overwhelmed with the smiles and greetings that I had to fight back the tears.
When it was my turn to face the crowd to lead them into worship, my heart beat fast because of the blessings I knew Jesus was getting right then. I could hardly form words that weren’t cracking as they came out. We started out with Joy to the World, because there was so much joy in that room that it felt like it filled up the world. 61 voices were heard in the heavens as these ladies sang their hearts out in honor to the baby Jesus that was born so many years ago.
After Carl Snyder spoke to the ladies about the good news of great tidings, it was my turn to share with them. I started out by asking them if they felt like they were blessing me right now, they said no. I said, “Good, because you weren’t meant to receive this blessing. Thank you for being here for Jesus, tonight.” We read the Christmas story in Luke 2 and we went back to the time when the Shepard’s were in the fields, minding their own business when all that light lit up the place. How frightened they were, but they went to see what the angels had told them and it was all true. I expressed to the 61 ladies sitting there without their families beside them that what matters to Jesus is where our hearts are. They could be sitting in the midst of their families, but if their heart wasn’t with them then it wouldn’t matter who was around them. The same goes as if they are not opening presents with their families; they are there in their hearts.
Louie closed the service telling of how, while Christmas is said to be about peace, sometimes Jesus causes division. He said himself, “I didn’t come to bring peace to the earth but a sword.” He told of how even the members of our own households may be our enemies. When it comes to Jesus he isn’t going to share first place with anyone. There may come a time when we have to make a choice between him and our Father, Mother, brothers or sisters. There was another instance where Jesus was teaching a crowd and his disciples came to him and said, “your mother and brothers are our outside, desiring to speak to you.” Jesus’ response was amazing. He said, “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers? And he stretched out his hand toward his disciples, and said, behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Christmas is indeed a time for family, but sometimes we need to be reminded about who our real family is.
Written by Tracey