And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us."
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
Tonight I heard four gunshots in rapid succession near my home. My first reaction was to wonder if anyone was hurt or killed and then to listen for squealing tires. Why? Because my first thought is that it was another driveby shooting. Strange enough, my first impulse was NOT to “act” on it—to do the only thing I could do to help. Chad asked me later if I called the police. In truth, I hesitated. Instead of calling 911 instinctively, I contemplated whether to call the police at all because I didn’t know if it was necessary—a sign that gunshots and violence have become the “norm” rather than the unthinkable. When the sound of violence should cause our hearts to skip a beat, we sometimes remain strangely calm simply because those sounds have become commonplace. We wonder about it and then return to our own routines. We aren’t “alarmed” anymore.
A few days ago while getting a soda and waiting in line at a local convenience store, the clerks were openly and none too quietly having a conversation with each other about family members and friends who were involved in recent violent altercations and gang activity. They were sharing details and even names that one can almost bet hadn’t been shared with police without fear or concern that anyone else in the store were hearing all of it—in a sense that it almost seemed they were unwisely boasting of their closeness with violent people. The conversation was disturbing though because they were talking about shootings and stabbings and death threats as if it were everyday routine. One of them even laughed because the cops hadn’t figured it out because the witnessing neighbors were threatened if they “narked.” The “cops” were the enemy not the criminals. So victims were left to deal with their tragedy while the attackers got away scot free. And in some twisted sense, these clerks seemed to think that was justice because, in their minds, the victims “deserved it” for whatever reason.
How did we get here? How did society get to the point that abuse, driveby shootings, murder, and knife assaults have become so commonplace and familiar that we aren’t shocked or appalled anymore? It’s almost as if we accept that violence has a rightful place in society…that revenge is justified for whatever reason and we, as citizens, don’t have a responsibility to speak up. Whether it be fear or lack of concern, we stay silent even when we’ve witnessed or have knowledge of crimes.
Over time, we have grown numb to the sights and sounds and stories—not just because we hear so much in the news about violence in larger cities and far-off places but because even right here at home, murder, revenge, and abuse has become all too familiar.
As citizens, we “say” something needs to be done and we lay all the responsibility on the police department and the legal system and then complain when it doesn’t work as it should. As Christians, we pray about it asking God to intervene…to bring about justice…We pray for victims and we even pray that criminals will be brought to justice and we leave it all in His hands to work miracles. We forget that sometimes answers to prayer require action and obedience on our part. The shepherds didn't just think about what the angels said. Little did they even know what lay ahead for this child 33 years hence. They acted on the angel's proclamation and took part in the unfolding story. Yet when tragic stories unfold today, more often than not, we don’t actively take a stand, we don’t use our voice as witnesses or victim advocates. Too often, we don’t even get alarmed or get outraged when it happens in our neighborhoods. We don’t WANT to get involved if it doesn’t directly involve us. We tolerate crime and in our complacency—in our silence--we fail to defend victims. Instead, we defend violence.
Oh, we look for places to lay the blame for the rising crime rate. We blame the legal system, poverty, bad upbringing…We sometimes even blame the victims or justify violence against them somehow. Yet we never look inward at ourselves. It’s disturbing that I hesitated even a second whether I should call 911 when I hear not just one questionable gunshot, but FOUR very distinct and unmistakable gunshots. And I am not alone. Each one of us is to blame every time we remain silent. Every time we look the other way, every time we fail to call police or report what we may know, every time we are not appalled or offended that victims are maliciously and vengefully harmed or killed, we become part of the problem.
Honestly, I don’t know if anyone was harmed tonight. I know that I was not the only one who heard the shots…There were several citizens who didn’t hesitate as long as I did to report them. I do know that police patrolled the neighborhood in search of the source. I haven't lain awake tonight in fear of those gunshots but rather in deep disappointment at the realization that too often in the past, I have been a part of the problem because of my silence... Times when I am certain that others were harmed as a consequence simply because I didn’t have the courage to speak up even when violence directly touched my life. How often I have grieved their harm even more than my own—if only... Do I know for certain, the violence would have stopped? That my testimony would have made a difference? No, but because I did nothing, there wasn’t even a chance to stop one person from hurting again. It would be more comforting if I was the only one who had to live with my choice but sadly, at least one other very young victim (most assuredly more) has to live with the consequences of my silence for the rest of her life too--victim at the same hand. Peace was stolen from both of us.
In this season, we often sing songs of “peace and good will toward men.” Do we mean it? Are we willing to be a part of the solution to violence rather than part of the problem? God has called us to genuinely love one another…to bear one another’s burdens and heartaches. If I truly love others, wouldn't I do everything within my power to keep them from harm, to comfort, to bring healing, to bring justice where needed? We should take the words of one Christmas carol to heart and put that truth to work in our lives. I can’t stop all of violence but I can do my part. "Let there be peace on earth AND at home and Lord, please let it begin with me…."
“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth--the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment with peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”