God With Us

"O come, O come, Emmanuel"—every Advent we sing the song. But for me it evokes especially poignant memories ever since last Christmas, when Patty and I participated in Angel Tree®, a Prison Fellowship ministry for distributing gifts to the children of prison inmates. As we drove into the housing project to deliver our gifts, we saw broken windows and grim-faced gang members lounging in doorways. We found the apartment, and a boy about nine years old cautiously opened the door. "Merry Christmas," I said, holding out the presents. "These are from your Daddy." Immediately, the door swung wide open to let us in. The boy's mother was working late, and as we waited we saw that the apartment inside was as bleak as the courtyard outside: The furniture was torn, the stuffing falling out. A straggly Christmas tree leaned against the wall, bare of any presents. "What's your name?" I asked the boy. "Emmanuel," he replied. "Emmanuel! Do you know what your name means?" I opened my Bible and read from Matthew: "and they shall call him Emmanuel—which means `God with us.'" When his mother came home, Emmanuel threw his arms around her, crying, "Mama, Mama, guess what my name means: God is with us!" At that moment, in that clear, childish voice rising above the squalor of neglected hallways and crime-filled courtyards, I heard the message of Christmas proclaimed afresh: that God is indeed with us at all times—and in a special way at Christmas, when He entered history through Jesus Christ. This is the message that hundreds of thousands of Angel Tree volunteers bring to the children of prison inmates every Christmas. Even more exciting, many volunteers are beginning to keep contact with Angel Tree kids all year round. And when they do, they're helping to hold back a wave of violent crime looming on the horizon. The children of the baby boom generation will soon be teenagers, the age most prone to violent crime. There will be 1 million more teens by 1998. U.S. News and World Report warns, "America should brace itself for a new surge of youthful violence." Yet most serious crimes are committed by a small percentage of teens: Only 6 percent of boys produce about half of all serious crime for that age group. According to criminologists, these boys tend to have parents who are themselves criminal; to do poorly in school; to abuse alcohol and drugs; to live in poor, disorderly neighborhoods. What's more, they tend to begin their misconduct at an early age, often by the time they're in third grade. In other words, these are the very kids we reach through Angel Tree. The coming crime wave will swamp our criminal justice system, no matter how many prisons we build or police officers we hire. But through Angel Tree, we can reach the children most at risk for a life of crime. The government can't do it. The only people who can are Christians willing to take young children by the hand and tell them the message of Emmanuel—that God is with them. For Christmas, and forever.


Chuck Colson


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