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Advent Journey

In last week’s newsletter article Nancy encouraged us to look for moments during Advent that we would like to hold onto and ponder in our hearts, as Mary treasured the moment of Jesus’ birth. In fact, Nancy said, “My prayer is that each of us will have at least one stop on this Advent journey that we’d like to keep.”

I wanted to tell you about one of my holy Advent moments this year. Well, technically, it didn’t happen during Advent, but almost. It happened on November 28 at the Christmas dinner out at Riverbend Maximum Security prison. In case you’re not familiar with this annual tradition, every year a group from Christ UMC takes a delicious catered meal out to Riverbend and serves it to the men from Pods A and B of Unit 6. Many of you gave money to pay for the food, Eric Kaberle organized it and over forty volunteers signed up to serve it and celebrate with the men.

Believe it or not, this was my first time to attend this dinner. In years past I have stayed back at 508 Franklin Road on that Wednesday night in order to teach Bible study and to give others a chance to attend the dinner. There’s a maximum number of volunteers who can attend, and since I get to go to Riverbend often to lead the Sunday worship service there, I felt like I could miss the Christmas dinner and give someone else my spot. However, I decided that this was my year to go. And what a blessing it was.

When the first group of men came in, I got to stand in a sort of receiving line to welcome them and wish them a merry Christmas. Once they’d gotten their food, I was able to sit down with a group of young men and hear their stories. We laughed and shared, and it struck me again how much all of us human beings have in common. There was no sense of “us” and “them,” no overbearing air of “charity.” Just people who are loved by God, sharing in the good news of Christmas that God is with us.

When the second group came in, I was able to serve in the food line. I picked the job of giving out rolls because I remembered Eric Kaberle saying that this Christmas dinner was the only time the men got to eat real butter. Selfishly, I wanted to be able to offer that small treasure.

Then came the moment. After all had received their food and were filled, Gene Cotton led us in singing some Christmas carols. As the time for closing approached, we joined together in “Silent Night.” Gene asked if anyone wanted to come up front and sing, and a few responded: three inmates and three “free” volunteers. I sat there singing that beautiful hymn, watching those six children of God sing: “radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.” Radiant beams. Redeeming grace. It was all right there.

That is an Advent moment that I will ponder and treasure. In that one moment I could see the overwhelming grace of God that covers us all. I could see the brokenness and need for grace that unites us all. I could see the love of God that surrounds us all. I could see the light of God that shines on us all.