She waves the pale blue shirt around like a flag of surrender. Around forty men watch her, waiting to see who will be the priveleged one to receive a shirt. I look around at the prisoners, marking that many wear tattered rags, probably the clothes that they had been arrested in years ago….
“Now I can’t tell you where these shirts come from,” she’s folding them neatly with her small dark hands, “different people gave them. And whoever gets one, there is to be NO fighting, understood?”
Silence answers her. She bustles around, handing out the shirts to the men, most of whom look more like walking skeletons then anything else.
“Joanna, look,” I whisper, indicating one old man, “that’s ours.” We had made an excursion a few days ago and bought two men’s shirts. The black and white striped shirt fell almost to his knees, and was far too wide for his skinny rib-cage.
Dad had told the gospel story, and concluded it with lighting a sole candle. It had burnt a golden halo in the shadowy prison, standing alone on the sole table in the middle of the dirty room. Now the couple burn bright right before my eyes – lighting up the room with the light of Jesus, talking with them, taking their addresses to find their families, feeding them, giving out the drinking water they had carried up, and listening to their stories.The men relax, smile, as they pass, as if even the coldest hearts cannot resist the fire of passion and mercy burning in their hearts.
They keep going around, and I sit still. Watching. Thinking.
This lady who has the courage and grace to mother murderers, her husband who has the faith to envision a new life for them… isn’t this what Christmas is all about?
Isn’t it about God Himself coming humble and gentle in the midst of our dirty mess and working on changing the murderers with cold hearts one at a time, of grace shining in the dark of hate? Of God giving Himself for us undeserving wretches? I remember how the couple had taken in a released prisoner into their already full home because he had no where else to go, how the husband had given shirts and trousers from his own meager wardrobe to clothe these men….
And the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…..
The words of Isaiah ring through my head as I gaze at the hot wax falling to the table.
We leave the prison, and she is talking to them to the last, making sure everyone’s there, everyone’s all right…The steel door clangs shut behind us, the hollow noise sounds like it comes from a grave.
But on that table the wax remains, and in the prisoners’ hearts there are traces of their exposure to the fire of Christ.