The four Sundays preceding Christmas Day and the coming/arrival (the meaning of Advent) focus on Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Some light a fifth candle which symbolizes the concept of Light.
John writes in his Gospel re. Jesus: 1.4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 1.5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
Paul writes, “For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4.6)
The darkness of jail and prison cell to persecuted Christians as well as those innocent or simply too poor to pay a fine -as well as those guilty of any number of crimes- is not impossible for God to penetrate. Jesus told us “God is Spirit” therefore no walls, bars or judgments of people can keep Him out of our mind, heart, soul or life. His light can and does penetrate all barriers -IF and as we surrender to Him in faith.
For those in solitary confinement or on death row (two things I and many believe are immoral, inhumane and must be abolished in the United States) exist very real horrors -yet no human authority has the ability to shut God out and away from those held there.
The Spirit of God, Jesus Christ, God the Father cannot be literally locked out and away from the captives. Note the following pertaining to both to Jesus and these matters: “18. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19. to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4) Jesus is quoting from Isaiah here and clearly states He has come to fulfill these things.
In Matthew 25 Jesus speaks of sheep and goats and a separation of them in the end. One amazing statement of His relates to how we treated “captives”: “I was in prison and you came to me.” (v.36b)
The United States has an appx. incarceration rate of 693 (Prisoners per 100,000 population), Finland 55, Sweden 55, Norway 70, Iceland 45, Denmark 61 (-Quora) Another of a slew of solid sources to face up to real-life captives in “civilized” nations: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2018.htm
There are of course, several arguments as to why our nation locks so many behind bars, and believe me when I say I agree that many need to be locked up at least for a time re. actual offenses and public safety. At the same time there is so much wrong with many of the policies, politicians and people who consider our justice system truly just in capturing and incarcerating people you’d have to study the matter to understand the what and why I say these things.
In my experience as pastor and chaplain far too many professing Christians are massively ignorant on these issues and therefore are themselves captive to attitudes and darkness to the extent even the idea of them serving incarcerated people on some level is out of sight-out of mind if not fully repugnant, a matter of disgust and a simple “They’re getting what they deserve!” as if any of us deserves anything less than hell.
“As you DID IT to the least of these” are Jesus’ words.
We can argue all we like about how this all came to be or that per capita “We’re not that bad!” as compared to other nations and rulers… but the facts of daily life in our lock-ups is an education as to how we actually treat the “least of these” captives.
What does all this have to do with Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Light regarding Advent 2019? Everything.
The Christ Child as God in the flesh arrived, Himself of course innocent, arrested, unjustly judged, imprisoned, treated brutally (to say the least…) and executed by the State -and religious leaders not only played the game with the Roman occupiers but demanded such for Him.
Most of the apostles were executed by the State via religious leaders who kept power in large part due to unholy alliances with Rome. Paul and others were imprisoned on their way.
Prior to all this John the Baptist was locked up and murdered in the same way -ultimately due to speaking truth to power.
What an amazing reality that Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Light accompanied them through the pain and misery right through to finally seeing the Face of God and hearing “Well done you good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord!” The same will be true for many a prisoner while sadly a shock to hear otherwise from many a supposed “saint” who confused loyalty to the State as loving obedience to the LORD.
Jesus said “The one whom the Son sets free is free indeed!” (John 8.36) I have met countless incarcerated Christ-followers who manifest more of these five Advent characteristics than plenty of so-called “free” people in the churches.
The question then is “WHO are the captives”?
On this 3rd Sunday in Advent, these are things I ponder.
As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn