“Smile” shouted the photographer to a picture perfect family seated around the Christmas tree. Mom and Dad sat in big overstuffed red chairs with huge smiles on their faces. The oldest sister stood behind her dad with her hand gently placed on his shoulder. One toddler sat in mom’s lap while the “little man” sat in his dad’s lap. Like a classic middle child a little girl stood smiling in her festive little outfit between mom and dad right in the middle of the family.
In a flash the camera captured this wonderful Christmas scene through the miracle of digital technology. With a glance, Eduardo knew he had a great picture the family would treasure for years to come.
Christmas portraits capture a moment in time but rarely do they tell the whole story. Too often Christmas portraits fall closer to fantasy than to reality. Through smiles and holiday outfits we often try to hide the harsh realities of life, but on this occasion this portrait told a story worthy of Christmas.
Just three weeks before this portrait, Cedric, the smiling father in the picture found himself far from home. He did not find himself deployed to a foreign land fighting for freedom nor was he on an extended business trip away from home during the holidays. No, Cedric stood behind cold steel bars. By his own mistakes and wrong choices this father found himself in prison far from his wife and little ones.
During those dark days Cedric made a new friend through the ministries of Prison Fellowship. The Christ of Christmas found his way into Cedric’s cell and more importantly into his heart. Suddenly the prisoner found freedom he had only dreamed about on long lonely nights. He found true freedom born within through grace and love.
The “Angel Tree” ministry created once again a Christmas miracle and I had the opportunity Sunday night at First Baptist Church to be a witness of its wonder. On this special Sunday night God reunited a family and connected them with an “extended family” ready and willing to welcome Cedric back home.
As I marveled as I realized that I had just gain a glimpse of the meaning of Christmas. When Jesus set his face toward planet earth leaving behind the glory of the throne room for a stable and a bed of hay, he intended to send a message to the world he created. Jesus entered our world shouting by his presence “You are not alone—I will show up where you least expect to find me!”
Truly the title given to Jesus by the prophet of old nailed it—“Immanuel, God with us!” Our mistakes and choices often take us places where we doubt the love of God can reach, but our doubts and fears cannot stop His irresistible love.
You could see it in Cedric’s smile. You could see it in the face of a wife and mother felt like her home was complete again with a toddler in her arms. You could see it in his teenage daughter’s face as she stood proudly with her hand on her father’s shoulder. The love of Christmas still reaches out and saves.
One portrait cannot tell the whole story, but it can capture an amazing moment in time. It can be the visual illustration at the beginning of a whole new chapter in the story of one man and his family thanks to Jesus!