SIGNED. SEALED. DELIVERED.
For years I have been telling my family and friends that I no longer send Christmas cards. Lowering the expectations in the right context can be a good thing. I think I still say it out loud to them to hear myself check one unessential task off an already too-long holiday project list. It turns out though, that I’m a liar. This past December I prepared a stack of 50+ Christmas cards, with personal, handwritten notes inside. They were sent to specific inmates in county jails and maximum to minimum security prisons around the state. Men and women. Dads, moms, sons, daughters. Addicts, dealers, molesters, thieves, embezzlers, murderers. Some are the children of capable, well-intended parents with once big dreams for their families and many are the children of dads who never showed up to participate in parenthood. Among the collection of inmates is a former bishop, a former soldier, a former executive, a former pastor, a former teacher, former athletes, former church members, former adored members of communities.
Former. Ex. Used to be. Is no longer. These are the words we use when we refer to someone whose status has changed. These are the words society uses to give itself permission to discard them because they are no longer who they used to be. The world once celebrated the soldier, revered the reverend, and wore the team colors to cheer for the athlete. But what happened to that adoration when each of their status changed? What was altered in our relationship with them when their sin was revealed, cataloged and prosecuted?
If the recipients of these Christmas cards are fortunate, someone who loves them will come to visit on or near Christmas. Together they'll eat their holiday dinner from a vending machine funded with quarters carried in dingy plastic baggies. They’ll wear fragile smiles that mask the heartache of their brokenness. They will be allowed a brief hug with no further human touch. Tears must be shed publicly. Tender conversations will bend over a shared table to be heard over the din of desperate voices that count down the remaining time. For some, the travel is a financial hardship, so the inmates and their families settle for a fifteen minute, pre-paid, monitored phone call where they exchange pleasantries – the candy coating for their bleeding hearts. At best, this pattern repeats at each holiday while the world feigns ignorance that these micro communities exist all around them. The world has separated and thus discarded them because it no longer values their status.
Holy. Saint. Sanctified. Perfect. These are also words that we use to identify one’s status. When a person comes to Christ with the commitment to follow Him, we celebrate the change in status to: “Saved”. It is a title that sets the new believer apart. Without regard for their specific category of sin, every believer receives the same promise: Eternity in Heaven. Believers carry sainthood as a badge of honor – the true privilege that it is. And yet the world discards the category of sinners who are separated by a jail wall or razor wired prison fence. The world says to them, “Your sin is worse than mine. You are not worthy of me.” The world defaults to its lowest common denominator: One sinner judging another sinner.
Sin is the great equalizer. It is the very characteristic that every person has in common with the next, regardless of any worldly hierarchy. What each of the inmates on my Christmas card list has in common is that they are loved by a King who commanded us to love them as He does. We all start out with equal status and the only future differentiator is whether we are saved. Jesus came to seal that deal. It’s what He signed up for. He came to deliver the most wretched sinners to the Creator. Scripture highlights that God used murderers, thieves and social deviants for His good. He turned the world’s rejects into pillars of faithfulness. Our Almighty Father didn’t lower His expectations of them, He raised them.