First appeared on our devotional blog on December 1, 2011:
written by: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, A chant sublime Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn The households born Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”*
During the Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was stricken with the loss of his wife, Fanny, and his son, Charles who chose to go to battle without his father’s permission. Charles was severely wounded a year after Fanny’s death. It was a dark time in Henry’s life and during the first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote,
“How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the incident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, Christmas Bells. The re-election of Abraham Lincoln or the possible end of the terrible war may have been the occasion for the poem.**
A few years ago, the band Casting Crowns recorded the now popular Christmas carol, I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day, which is based on Longfellow’s poem. The lead singer of the band, Mark Hall, found the story behind the poem and was struck by the sadness and the hope portrayed in the poem. He knew they must record the song.
During this Advent season, you may be dealing with tragedy – loss of family, struggles finding a job, illness… Peace seems a futile dream, a concept that no longer can be grasped.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 2: 8-15
We can find peace in the Messiah, Christ Jesus. He came to this earth to be amongst us, to build relationships with each of us. We can find the peace to move forward and the hope to take each step knowing there will be brighter days.
Take the time today to read through the Scripture passage in Luke. Imagine being in the shepherds’ place, being visited by God’s angel – His messenger of hope. Journal the verses and your thoughts to bring yourself into the Christmas story.
Once you have meditated on this passage, listen to I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day sung by Casting Crowns. Be Blessed this Christmas Season!
* Written during the American Civil war, the above poem can be found in:
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Complete Poetical Works of Longfellow.Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1893.
Stevenson, Burton Egbert , ed. The Home Book of Verse for Young Folks. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915