The Story Behind Christmas Bells

There are times when the horror of the moment is too hard to grasp. Last week, that horror was made manifest in Newtown, Conn., an upscale Fairfield County community of 28,000 residents. On Friday, a psychotic gunman went on a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary school killing 20 children and six adults. That incident has shaken our nation, indeed the world, and has unleashed a torrent of anguish that seems to have cast a pall over this Christmas season.

Unimaginable Carnage

This massacre was, most unfortunately, the latest in a series of attacks that have riddled our nation. Just this year a gunman opened fire at a movie theater in Colorado, killing 12. In 2009, 13 people were killed at an immigration center in Binghampton, N.Y. And, in 2007, 32 people were slain at Virginia Tech.

Some people are blaming guns, others are pointing fingers at mental illness, but there is truly a satanic force that is having its way — a fist of hatred that has come down countless times over thousands of years of human history. Quite easily, even as followers of Jesus Christ, we can wonder where God is in all of this. Rest assured, He is present with us even in the darkest hour.

Our Hope

The apostle Paul knew darkness, but he also knew that God was with him always and is with us too.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

God’s love is with us and He will prevail.Christmas Bell.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

America’s treasured poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, put his trust in God and penned such inspirational classics as God’s Acre, where he aptly described how eternal life springs from death. That acre is the grave or “the place where human harvests grow.”

Longfellow also wrote “Christmas Bells” a seven-stanza poem that is sometimes sung as a five-stanza carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Longfellow wrote the poem at Christmas in 1863 following the tragic death of his wife and the war injuries sustained by his oldest son. It is both a Christmas song and an anti-war tune, the latter reflecting Longfellow’s anguish over a war that pitted brother against brother.

In 1872, John Baptiste Calkin set the poem to music, eliminating two stanzas while moving the third stanza to the end. The poem is featured here and it is the last two stanzas that merit special attention as these seem to capture both the mood and the hope of our day.

Christmas Bells

“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!”

Peace on Earth

Truly, God’s desire for mankind is that there would be peace on earth, something we will not fully know until the Lord reigns supreme in the hearts of all. In the meantime as we abide in Him, that peace can grow in our own hearts and ring out loud and clear at Christmas and throughout the year to a world that knows no peace.

Photo courtesy of Petr Vins.

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