Violent night, holy night

“City Carolers,” digital art by Keith Lyndaker Schlabach “City Carolers,” digital art by Keith Lyndaker Schlabach

We heard the gunfire as we were getting ready to leave the church.

It was a cold Christmas Eve in Washington, D.C., as a group of us headed outside to join other members of the congregation for an evening of caroling.

Suddenly the night was filled with the wail of sirens, a police chopper circling overhead — and Christmas carols.

We walked around the block, our strange eclectic crew, stopping at the houses of neighbors to sing, our faces bathed in the flashing blue-red glow of police lights.

Children ran ahead to leave small gift bags on porches or in the hands of grateful listeners.

Wishing someone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year took on new meaning in the light of what was occurring around us.

“Good tidings we bring to you and your kin.”

I passed a young man on a cellphone and overheard him say, “I’m just checking in to see if you’re all right.”

I wondered: Will one of these houses receive a knock on the door later tonight with some not-so-glad tidings?

Our final stop was the liquor store on the corner right beside the church. Up the steps went the children while we started another song. The woman who received the gift bag stood there smiling and listening, her hand over her heart.

Solutions to violence and neighborhood problems can be debated ad nauseum. But one thing I believe to be true.

Whatever suffering occurs around us, we as believers are to be in the midst of it, giving witness to the coming of something new, a world of hope and peace.

And when the noise of violence and sorrow threatens to drown out the incarnate Word of God, we raise our voices to the tear-filled night and sing all the louder.

Keith Lyndaker Schlabach and wife Rachelle co-pastor Millersburg Mennonite Church in Ohio. The incident described in this article happened in 2013 when they were attending Peace Fellowship Church, a multiethnic, multi-socioeconomic church in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C. He writes about other such Incarnational experiences at

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