The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
Many years ago our church began the practice of delivering Angel Tree gifts to the children of incarcerated parents. The idea was for us to be the conduit—the gift was from the parent and we were simply delivering on their behalf. This effort was quickly adopted by a number of congregational families who felt that outreach on Christmas Eve truly brought the spirit of Christmas and who included their children to heighten awareness of the plight of others.
Early on, my wife Gloria assumed responsibility for organizing the Angel Tree mission and it quickly became a tradition for our entire family. Whoever happened to be in town to visit participated, and if we were to travel we didn’t depart until at least mid-day Christmas Eve.
There are challenges in this. Sometimes recipients have moved, telephone numbers don’t work, or folks aren’t home and it doesn’t appear safe to leave packages on the porch. Gloria was a master at finding folks so we could deliver their packages. And it wasn’t always Christmas Eve. If we couldn’t find someone, we kept trying and it might be the day after Christmas or one time, New Year’s Eve. But the children received their gifts as if their parents had delivered them.
One day our family approached a home in a rough trailer park. This was one where the men went to the door. We understood two adolescent boys lived with their grandmother, but a large man answered the door. When we said we were delivering gifts from the boys’ father, he said, “That’s me.” He had been released from jail. Well, we didn’t go inside; but looking in, there were clearly no gifts, no tree, no lights. We brought the gifts, two for each boy, and as we left, he said, “Thank you, that’s all the Christmas there will be this year.” Well, needless to say, we had to go gather up some more Christmas cheer, including Christmas dinner, fruits and small things for this family to enjoy Christmas.
So that was the only time we found the formerly incarcerated parent at home, but maybe father coming home was a sign of Christ’s coming. . . just maybe.
About the Contributor
Lee and Gloria Close have been members of First Presbyterian for 35 years, reared children here, had children married here, baptized three of four grandchildren here, and plan to spend eternity in the Columbarium. Both are ordained elders and Lee is currently serving as Clerk of Session.