I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day* is perhaps one of my favorite carols, as it is a true expression of the hurts and hope of a man who suffered, not only the loss of his dear wife, but then the tragedy of a severely wounded son in the American Civil War. Though this song comes from a longer poem of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the verses most often sung can speak to any soul throughout the centuries. I know it can certainly fit our time.
Christmas bells, though not so widely rung in our modern day, are still heard in songs and the all-to-familiar ringers of the Salvation Army. Bells are rung to make an announcement, to let everyone know something is coming. Longfellow recognized that, not matter what was happening in the world at the time, which was for him the war, those bells would ring on Christmas day. They were an ever-present reminder of an eternal reality — Christ’s coming brought the avenue for peace for all mankind.
Knowing that, however, did not stop his hurt — the deep despair that was in his heart. That’s what the third verse shares:
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.
Have you ever felt that way? I have. Where is the peace that Christ was to bring to all mankind? I certainly don’t see it in places of war, like Syria; or famine, like Yemen; or America, where people seemingly enjoy lashing out at each other in hatred. These events remind me that hate is strong and none seek the peace and goodwill that Christ can bring. In fact, they seemingly make a mockery of the message.
Mock as they may, the reality stays the same:
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.”
Longfellow knew it — the world would continue to revolve, as a voice would be added to the chime of the bells, as individual followers of Christ would continue to do good, love their fellow man and share the message of peace that is found only in Jesus.
I’m grateful that I can see it in the lives of believers who seek out the refugee, give a cold cup of water to the hurting, a piece of bread to the hungry, and continue to live a life that glorifies Christ in the face of ridicule and persecution.
God is not dead, nor does He sleep. The wrong will fail. The right will prevail. In Christ there is peace on earth, as he enables us to show good will to others.
Keep listening for those bells. They’re all around you.
*WORDS: Henry W. Longfellow, 1807-1882. MUSIC: John Calklin, 1827-1905.