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"The Ragamuffin's Christmas"

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Advent Day 18: Forgiven. A murderer meets his victims at the manger.

 “I answered him, "Sir, you know."  Then he told me,
"These are the people who are coming out of the terrible suffering.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”
     Sometime before 5 a.m. the church bells woke me and I realized I was trapped in that terrible overlapping land where it is too early to get up but too late to go back to sleep.
       It’s the purgatory of slumber I suppose, like being in the middle of a great dream and realizing… “This is a dream.” That’s where I was this morning when the bells clanged their mournful song.
       There wasn’t any sense in trying to sleep for 30 more minutes, so I decide to just get up and maybe spend some time in contemplation and thought. I need to figure out where Christmas went. I plop down in my big chair and pick up the beautiful handmade calendar and open the leather trimmed door for day 12.  I have no idea at all who the figure is I see.
       Mary and Joseph are standing to the side of the manger and there is gentle love in their eyes. A black man with an athletic build is kneeling by the crib with his back toward me. He is holding the baby in his large powerful arms, dwarfing the tiny figure. The man is very happy and seems to be soaking in the love from the child's radiant face. The baby is smiling noticeably at the man and the man is weeping openly. I hear him speaking softly to the baby. “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you for forgiveness, thank you for redeeming me. Oh! Thank you Lord..."
       The man rocks the child for a long time. For one brief second, he raises his head and I recognize the handsome face of a man from back home. His name is Andre Deputy. I never knew Andre, but a friend of mine, Bill Killen, was his liaison and worked on his behalf to try to get him a pardon.
Because Andre Deputy is a murderer...
       On February 1, 1979, in a drunken stupor, he and another man murdered an elderly couple in a botched robbery. They were trying to get more money for booze, and things went crazy and a man and his wife were murdered violently.
       Sometime during his years in prison, Andre found himself shipwrecked at this stable and fell down before this same infant-Savior. He offered the baby the ultimate gift...his soul. He did the most loving thing anyone can do for Jesus...he let Jesus love him.
       The remainder of Andre's life was spent serving his fellow prisoners. He got his GED, completed a correspondence Bible course and taught Bible studies to inmates. He was instrumental in leading dozens of other inmates to this Savior he now kneels before.    
       At his commutation hearing, a quadriplegic inmate who had been paralyzed in a gang fight in prison had himself wheeled into the board room. With tears in his eyes he recounted how Andre' would wake up early and come into this man’s room after head count and help him get cleaned up and dressed. Then he would wheel him into the chow line and make sure he got his food.
       After breakfast Andre' would return the man to his cell and they would have a bible study and prayer together. Andre did his laundry for him, he wrote letters for him. He even brushed the man’s teeth.  The man was sobbing inconsolably as he told the pardon board, “Andre is my friend, if you take him from me I don't know how I'll make it."
       My friend Bill told me this story through tears of his own. Andre's encounter with this infant King was real and life changing, as all real redemption is. Andre Deputy was a legend for Jesus in the Smyrna Correctional Facility.
       I watch in earnest now that I know who this man is. I see him holding Jesus closely and I see how clear and bright his eyes are. No alcoholic fog, no guilt, and shame. There is only the love of the infant radiating back to him as he pours out his affection on his baby-King.
       There is a stirring near the entrance and Mary and Joseph look toward the doorway. They smile broadly and silently motion the visitors to join them. They walk to Mary and Joseph and they whisper greetings. The couple seems happy and content as the woman places a finger on her lips. " Shhhh," she whispers to Mary. Mary's tears tell the story and Joseph is blinking back some of his own.
       At the manger, Andre Deputy is lost in worship and gently holding Jesus to his chest. His eyes are closed and he is unaware that the old couple has knelt down beside him. The man and woman place a hand on each of Andre's strong shoulders and he smiles without opening his eyes. "I think he is asleep Mary," Andre whispers.
       The old woman squeezes his shoulder and her voice breaks..."Andre..." Andre opens his eyes with a start. His face wears a sudden shocked and pained look. The old couple is Bayard and Alberta Smith...the elderly couple he killed while robbing them 30 years ago.   
       Andre is frightened and gently places Jesus in his cradle. He wants to speak but is afraid. The old man realizes he will have to break the ice.  “Andre.'s okay. We have come here every year since, hoping to find you. We heard about your accepting Jesus, the angels rejoiced, son. We rejoiced too. We finally found you here. We came to worship Him with you."
       Andre Deputy breaks down. His sobs are louder than anything I have heard thus far, but for all the tears there is a palpable joy in his crying. The Smiths are embracing him to the point of holding him up. Andre looks at the infant baby in the manger and sees the smile on the boy's lips. He reaches into a mesh bag he has brought with him to the cave. It is the kind of bag inmates use to transport their purchases from the commissary to their cells. He pulls out a small piece of fabric. It is ragged on the edges, like it has been torn.   
       As Andre shakes the piece of fabric open and gently lays it over the tiny child, I can make out the letters, "D.D.O.C."... Delaware Department of Corrections.
Deputy leans over to kiss the infant and whispers, “Here little baby, I am free now. I have a beautiful white robe thanks to you. Maybe this can keep you warm.”  Jesus has exchanged a robe for the ragged piece of a prison garment and it leaves Andre Deputy free and forgiven.
       The Smiths and their murderer are joined together in worship, forgiveness, and reconciliation, around the only One who could possibly redeem a situation like this. They are bound together in tenderness and redeemed at the stable by the conquering love of Jesus.
   [Andre Deputy was executed by lethal injection, 6-24-94]

“Like a stone on the surface of a still river, the ripples go on and on forever.
And redemption rips through the surface of time,
In the cry of a tiny babe.”   –Bruce Cockburn

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