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by Bishop Garland Hunt
I know many of you join me in abhorring the commercialization of the most beautiful season on the calendar. Yet, for better or worse, the focus on material things highlights the challenges many families face during Christmas and throughout the year. At this time, under the bright glow of Christmas lights, the dark shadows of need come sharply into focus.
Instead of lecturing on how Christmas has turned into a commercial season focused on gifts rather than grace, I feel compelled to focus on how we can use this time of year to offer tangible gifts to those in need. If we can not see the importance of being the concrete answer to prayer at Christmas time, then when will we see the importance of it?
In the book of James, the word says, "Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"
We must keep praying for people, but we must also start aggressively doing things for people. A community desperately in need of our prayers and actions is the incarcerated. When I served as president of Prison Fellowship, I saw firsthand the impact a loved one in prison has on families, especially children left behind. That great void of emptiness was even more pronounced during Christmas time. Prison Fellowship, of course, is a leader in building support for the families of incarcerated men and women. Many of you may be familiar with the Angel Tree Christmas program, when thousands of children with moms and dads in prison are given gifts so that they will have presents to unwrap on Christmas day. The gift from strangers on behalf of their incarcerated parents reminds them they are loved and valued. My church, The Father's House, in the Atlanta area, has participated with Angel Tree for years.
We must not let our political radar derail what the Lord's word teaches us about compassion. When I say we should show compassion to prisoners, I am not advocating opening jail cells and freeing hardened criminals. I am not even talking about opening jail cells and releasing nonviolent offenders. Instead, I am talking about modeling the spirit of Christ and showing compassion to people we may consider our enemies or believe are undeserving of compassion.
In Scripture, we see time and time again examples of compassion displayed by Christ and others. The very word compassion is mentioned over 40 times in the Bible.
My greatest examples of compassion displayed in the Word of God include Jesus extending kindness to the woman at the well and the father who celebrated the return of his prodigal son. These well-known stories offer essential guidance to Christians. However, one of the most popular parables of compassion is the story of the good Samaritan.
A man is beaten, robbed, and left to die on a dangerous road. Two fine upstanding citizens pass him, but in their haste and ego, they do not lift a finger to help the injured, helpless man. Then along comes a Samaritan, who by culture and lineage was a natural enemy of the man who lay before him. Nevertheless, the Samaritan ignores the cultural barriers and cleans the man's wounds. He even pays for a room where he can recover.
In telling the story, our pride often places us in the role of the Samaritan, who behaved with honor. We imagine that we would be the good Samaritan. In sermons preached across the globe, we are counseled to model the behavior of the good Samaritan. Of course, we would never put ourselves in the role of the pious and selfish men who ignore the plight of the beaten and broken man.
However, of all the characters in this parable, the one that I believe is most like us is the man who lies dying and helpless. The shocking reality is that we have more in common with the beaten and broken man than perhaps anyone in the parable. Jesus said, what you do to the least, you do to me.
God's very gift of His Son puts us in the position of the one being rescued, not the one rescuing. With that in mind, we should model that behavior. I encourage you to consider how it looks to model that behavior toward incarcerated people and their families.
Google is at your fingertips and can provide you with organizations in your local area that will help you bless families with loved ones in prison. If you have a skill or talent, from crocheting to academic tutoring, you can show true compassion by investing time to volunteer to help with prison outreach. This Christmas season, let us aggressively model Christ with prayer and actions.
Bishop Garland R. Hunt serves as
the Senior Pastor of The Father's House in Norcross, Georgia. He is a Senior Fellow with the Douglass Leadership Institute and leads the organization’s Forward Justice Initiative. Hunt’s executive leadership spans 28 years with the Fellowship of International Churches, Wellington Boone Ministries, and New Generation Campus Ministries. In 2004, he was appointed to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles and served as chairman of the Parole Board in 2006. In 2010, Hunt was commissioner of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice. In 2011, he served as president of Prison Fellowship.