Joy to the World

The night we all went caroling.

It's the second Sunday of Advent. Just before the morning benediction the pastor reminds us to dress warmly for the evening service, which is going to be held mostly outside. Outside it is 27 degrees Farenheit and snowing. But from experience we know that we will have a bigger crowd than usual this Sunday evening.

We gather at 6:00 P.M. and keep our coats, hats, gloves, and boots with us in the pews. We sing together, pray, and hear a brief message from God's Word about "Go Tell It on the Mountain." We sing "Hark, the glad sound, the Savior...comes the broken heart to bind, the wounded soul to cure, and with the treasures of his grace to enrich the humbled poor."

"Brokenness" certainly describes our church neighborhood. Two generations ago members of our church lived and worked in this neighborhood. Now most of us drive in to a church building surrounded by poverty, decay, and even crack houses. But we want to stay and minister here. We offer food programs and several neighborhood youth ministries. If neighbors want help, they know that there is help and hope at Eastern Ave. CRC.

Often the direction is too onesided; they come to us. Not many of our members move among our neighbors, except to drive through the neighborhood with locked doors, comforted by the knowledge that the parking lot is patrolled for all services.

But not on this Sunday evening. On this cold December evening we are going caroling.

The first time we tried the caroling service we had many skeptics: how can a whole congregation go caroling after dark in a neighborhood like this? Now we look forward to what has become an annual event. After the twenty-minute indoor service, we split into four groups and set out on an assigned itinerary, covering a couple of blocks in each direction around the church.

In each group, the children go first, running up the steps, daring each other to ring the bell or knock on the door. Whenever we see movement behind a curtain or any other indication that someone is home, we all start singing. The sights we see are both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. We see poorly dressed children standing in barely furnished rooms. We meet people who are at first fearful and suspicious, but who then break into smiles, open their doors, and join us in singing. We approach others who are so frightened that they never open their doors, but watch and listen from inside safety.

At each home we visit we hand out invitations to our special Christmas services and then move on. We cover our two blocks in about forty minutes. Sometimes, as we discover needs and opportunities, one of our group stays behind to talk. But mostly we sing.

Back at church the elderly and parents with very small children have their own carol sing and help to prepare hot chocolate for everybody. Soon we all are together again, grateful for the hot chocolate, grateful for the warm fellowship among fellow believers, and grateful that we have in this small, small way tried to bring the love of Christ to our closest neighbors.

Emily R. Brink (embrink@calvin.edu) is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.