What an odd week before Christmas for me. The jury I’ve been serving on all week just reached a verdict and tomorrow I’ll go caroling at San Quentin State Prison. Justice, law, condemnation, and grace fill my thoughts instead of sugar plums and candy canes. It may seem a strange time of year to write about these topics but it actually makes sense. It’s because God took on human flesh 2,000 years ago – becoming a baby destined to give His life as a ransom for many – that those of us who have given our lives to Him are now free of condemnation and able to live lavished in His grace.
Most of the prisoners at San Quentin, like Chester from my last blog, will never receive any Christmas visits or even cards or phone calls. When we carol in the cell blocks, it’s not possible to crane my neck back far enough to see up to the fifth tier of cell upon cell, with hundreds of men in orange jumpsuits holding on to their bars and singing along with us. The tears in their eyes as we sing “Away in a Manger” speak of deep sorrow for their children on the outside, many of whom will never know Christmas with their father. There is a hushed awe as we enter the rotunda where men awaiting execution live. The windows are opened to let our voices in, but we are not admitted. As the words “Condemned Row” sink into my heart, I remember that, but for the grace of God, I would be condemned, too. I am no better than these criminals but I’ve had the opportunity to know God through a relationship with His Son. His righteousness has been exchanged for my sin and I am free. Many of these men have also been set free on the inside although they may never again step foot outside these prison walls.