From the Dean
I only heard of it second hand. I was not privy to the actual event, although in their telling the whole amazing experience came alive in my own imagination. It was the brain child of Sister Greta who is, if you don't yet know her, a woman prone to giving birth to brain children. This particular dream, for that was what it was, was years in the making. When you work in prison ministry you know it can often be a long way from the kernel of a dream to its reality.
Sister Greta spends many of her days involved with Prism Ministry, the Episcopal ministry to those incarcerated in the LA Country jails. For years she and
Brother Dennis Gibbs and their team of well trained lay ministers have served the spiritual needs of many of the incarcerated of Los Angeles. Some years ago Sister Greta imagined how wonderful it would be to bring Christmas to the women's jail by bringing carolers to the women housed there. After years of working with the jail administrators, having every caroler go through a background check, and all the other bureaucratic hoops involved in working with a system expressly designed to keep its residents from interacting with the outside community, Greta finally got the green light. A dozen hand chosen carolers were allowed into the jail to share the Gospel light and deepest joys of Christmas with those who would not be spending Christmas at home with their families. For these women when Christmas came there would be no tree loaded with gifts, no sumptuous feast, no Christmas pageant, Midnight Mass, no candle lit singing of Silent Night. But that did not and could not mean that on December 25th Christmas would pass these women by.
And so on the Saturday before Advent III, on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. On a day when so many are frantically preparing their homes, their churches, and their families to welcome the miracle of Christmas; a dozen kind, generous, loving Christian people stepped away from their busy lives and out of their comfort zones to follow prison guards through open social areas crowded with prisoners, along hard concrete corridors, and finally straight into cold solitary cells to sing the songs of Christmas to a community of human beings who so needed to touch Christmas with all its hope, it's comfort, and its peace.
There were hugs and tears and love poured out like a mountain stream at spring runoff. There was gratitude and compassion and dignity shared. There was a moment when those who live with so much could acknowledge that even a cell is a home, and that those who live within it deserve by virtue of their humanity to have that home honored and blessed and sanctified. For all who were a part of this simple, elegant, grace filled moment, Christmas became more real. The holiness of a stable that could turn a cell into a place for hope and prayer became real.
At one particular stop on their caroling a woman made a special request of the carolers. "I don't remember the name of it, but can you sing that song about tidings of comfort and joy?"
And so they sang,
"God rest ye merry gentlefolk, let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day.
To save us all from Satan's power when we had gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy.
Comfort and joy.
O tidings of comfort and joy. "
I think that what God did was come to us in our cell on that first Christmas morning. Christ came to our world often filled with loneliness and pain and fear and sorrow. God came to a stable in an occupied land and instead of standing back at some safe distance, God entered in. God stood in the cell of human suffering and brought to that place and that people a promise of freedom, of deliverance, of peace and wholeness and comfort and joy and hope. Life was changed by that visit. We are changed and made whole because of a God who chose to enter the most ignominious corners of human reality and fill them with beauty and truth, goodness and life.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!