Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Caroling Still Brings Peace On Earth

By DEACON STEVE SWOPE, Commentary | Published December 23, 2010

On a cold, clear, dark Friday night in December, our parents sent us out. With flashlights in our mittened hands and our feet securely stuffed into our red snow boots, we set out. My sister, brother and I crunched along through the frozen snow and ice for several blocks to Kenwood Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio. Arriving there, we joined several dozen other children who had likewise been sent out into the same dark night by their parents.

The collection of children ranging in age from about 6 to the “old” kids of 12 were gathering together for a common purpose, to roam the surrounding neighborhood with the specific intent of interrupting the adults who were tucked inside their homes by the fire watching Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley relate the news at the close of 1964.

Before setting out on our mission, each child was briefed on the plan of attack, which was elegant in its simplicity. We were to steal through the neighborhood as silently as possible, and close in on a home. The oldest of our group would give final instructions to us, telling us exactly what to do and when to do it. By lots one of our little group would be selected to approach the door of the home and ring the doorbell; this honor consistently fell to the youngest child at the start and miraculously moved to the older children as the evening progressed.

As the door of each home swung open, our entire army of children would together scream at the top of their voices, “Merry Christmas” and break into song: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing … Away in a Manger … O Little Town of Bethlehem … Joy to the World. We would then turn and move away our voices trailing off with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Something was happening there, something important, something that did more than create childhood memories. This ragtag group of children ranging through our small neighborhood in Columbus was doing and experiencing something holy.

There were many things that we did not have in common. There were boys and girls, kindergarteners and sixth-graders. Children whose fathers served during World War II and others whose fathers were Korean War veterans. There were kids from German, English, Polish, Italian and several other heritages. There were native Ohioans and kids like my siblings and me whose parents were from a strange place called “the South.” Among our number were Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and some who scandalously—for the 1960s—didn’t attend any particular church.

What we shared transcended our differences. Bonds were formed as we moved through the night. A bond was immediately produced between our group and our neighbors when they looked out to the innocent, cherubic faces of their carolers, and we looked back into their shining eyes and genuine smiles.

At that moment for both singers and listeners, there was peace on earth.

The common bond that united our little community of singers is the same bond that unites all Christians, our belief and hope in Jesus. Our excitement and joy as well as that of those we serenaded were completely and totally focused on the coming of Jesus. We were a small, young community of believers spreading the Gospel of Jesus. Evangelists in mittens and red snow boots.

Almost 40 years later on a cold, clear, dark December night, several dozen women, men, girls and boys set out across the College-Temple Historic District of Newnan on a mission. At the suggestion of a neighbor and former Presbyterian seminarian, a group of believers made up of children and adults ranging from 20 to 70 would make its way through the neighborhood ringing doorbells and singing Christmas carols. In coats, jeans and sneakers, we traversed the streets, interrupting the people tucked inside their homes watching “Law and Order,” “Desperate Housewives” or surfing the Internet. They opened their doors to us, and we burst into song. We could feel something happening, something amazing, something holy.

The same bond between caroler and listener quickly formed, and the bond within our little group grew stronger. As we sang, the differences that separate us as people fell away; differences in socio-economic standing, political outlook and faith tradition had little meaning. Within the group there were Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Southern Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, United Methodists, other traditions and those who do not actively participate in any particular church (which is not scandalous at all these days), but none of that was on our minds. We came together as a community of faith, sharing our common belief in one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For that moment, there was peace on earth and good will toward all.

It is said that St. Augustine once remarked that, “Singing is praying twice.”  If that is indeed the case, then our ragtag group of carolers roaming the cold dark streets of Newnan engaged in prayer together as a Christian people.

As we sang and prayed together, we shared the faith that unites all Christians wherever they may be. It is an element of our faith that we can all reflect on in this Christmas season.

We can all discover in our lives what we carolers found both then and now. We can once again see that through the darkness and coldness of the night, and of our lives, we can hope for light and warmth, and our hope is not in vain.

God comes to us in our darkest of moments as a piercing light. He comes to us in innocence, as an infant, as the person of Jesus, the one true light of the world. Jesus shatters the darkness and brings to us the light of salvation. In him we find lasting peace on earth and forevermore.

Deacon Steve Swope is the associate director of diaconate formation for the Atlanta Archdiocese. He is also the chairman of the Catholics Come Home Georgia steering committee.