Eight in the morning and the ground is frosty. We move the altar away from the wall and into its celebration spot. Someone moves the pulpit and sets up the crib scene on a small table in front of it. Worship sheets are out and so are the song sheets (swiped from a Lutheran Bell Choir service that happened last week). New candles are lit, bread and wine on the altar. I even remembered the sacramentary and opened it to the appropriate page. All the readings have been claimed by volunteers. We are ready.
Almost. Even as the clock points to eight-fifteen, we are looking for Fr. Joe. He's not here yet.
The officer at the front desk calls the officer at the entrance to the prison: Any sign of Fr. Joe? Not yet.
The first rule of prison life, among many, be ready to punt.
So we sing the opening carol, "O Come, All Ye Faithful." We bless ourselves, pray the Gloria for the first time in weeks, and settle in for the readings. Fr. Joe will join us.
We listen through all the readings. I homilize. "Don't be afraid. Shepherds got the word first, not the governor, not the emperor, not the high priest. Shepherds. They were afraid, much like we are, afraid to believe that this grand message was for them." Then I tell them the story about Baby Jesus getting stolen from our manger scene a few years ago, and coming back to us with inked tattoos. They laugh at the story, but there is some keen recognition in their eyes: God became like us.
We pray. We exchange Peace. We share communion (thanks, St. Leo parish for being such a steady connection for us) and we go out singing, "Joy to the World."
Fr. Joe will celebrate Epiphany with us. We'll have a chance to be a bit counter-cultural. I'm betting the lights and trees will be down before next Sunday, but we'll still be celebrating Christmas. This is the feast I get to celebrate every day: the immense gift of human life that God chooses to inhabit.