As I left Sheffield a few days ago, they were stacked up. Row upon row of wrapped Christmas trees in the Sainsbury’s car park. All real trees….no artificial ones, and ethically sourced apparently this year. Real Christmas trees for our hopefully real Christmas.
I’ve just bought 10 Christmas trees myself. Made out of small beads, they are a few inches high, and took several hours each to complete. Made by John, a prisoner in the Kanater Prison, Cairo, these trees, and Christmas bells, and beaded bags he makes earn him a bit of money for himself and the prison fellowship of about 40 men who meet together 4 times a week, 3 times for prayer and Bible encouragement during the week, and 1 time on Sunday for worship, song and sermon.
He’s been there for 15 years, an Indian who might still have another extra 5 years before release home. It all depends on the authorities, who keep changing their minds and the regulations on foreign prisoners.
So he makes Christmas trees, and daily leads the prison fellowship as a pastor, looking after the needs of his brothers. Taken to church rather unwillingly, ‘by the hand’ by his wife in the past, he became a true Christian whilst in prison. ‘Here I met Jesus, committed my life to him, and was set free Ian, yes in this prison, thanks be to God’. Today he spoke of the great opportunity that Christmas brings, not just for the communion service allowed twice in the year by the authorities, when the Bishop come to lead them in bread and wine, but for the witness to the other prisoners – and to the guards. ‘We are allowed a Christmas gathering to eat some snacks, and sing, and talk about the baby born to set us free….and we invite them, all of them, and some come, Ian, yes even our guards. Isn’t Christmas wonderful when we can serve them with this good news?’
And so he makes Christmas trees, and looks after his flock, and speaks of the freedom Christ brings within the walls, and even serves his guards. Real Christmas trees for a real Christmas.