Back in 2009, in the days leading up to Christmas, I happened to read in the news about an African-American man in Florida who had just been exonerated after 35 years of wrongful incarceration. His name is James Bain, and he was only 19 years old when he arrived in prison. After DNA testing proved he couldn’t have committed the crime that resulted in his life sentence, Bain became a free man at the age of 54. According to the Innocence Project, “[he] spent more time in prison for a crime he did not commit than any other American exonerated through DNA evidence.” The Associated Press reported that as Bain walked out of the courthouse:
. . . he spoke of his deep faith and said he [did] not harbor any anger. . . . With a broad smile, he said he looked forward to spending time with [his mother] and the rest of his family. “That’s the most important thing in my life right now, besides God.”
I think that’s remarkable, and something worthy of pondering during the season of Advent. Today, like many Christians around the world, we will sing these words: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel . . .” We are a people who have been set free. We have been judged unjustly, not because we were innocent and declared guilty like James Bain, but because our many sins have been forgiven by a gracious and loving God. So what would we have to say about that freedom, that amazing grace, if reporters interviewed us on the front steps of this church today after receiving Holy Communion? Would we exhibit the same kind of peace and joy and reconciliation that Bain showed in his public remarks? Why not?