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Friday, December 22, 2006
 
Longfellow's Christmas Bells
As we approach Christmas Day, I thought it appropriate to revisit a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which later became a Christmas Carol. Longfellow’s I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day is widely sung – especially when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. The carol’s message is pretty simple – take heart for right shall prevail and in the end there will be peace.

The phrase “Peace on earth, good will towards men” has its origins in the first Christmas. It was sung by the Heavenly Host to the Shepherds in their fields as Christ’s birth in Bethlehem was announced with splendor never seen before nor since.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
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. -Luke 2: 8-14
In Longfellow’s world, he had much reason to despair. As he wrote the poem on Christmas Day 1864 he was mourning the tragic death of his wife and the wounding of his son in a Civil War battle.

No doubt this sorrow was the muse which inspired stanzas three and four – which are omitted from the modern carol:

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.
After which he gave voice to his despair:

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.”
There are no doubt many in today’s America who share Longfellow’s sorrows this Christmas. Peace on earth isn’t very evident today. Nothing I write or express here will be able to change the reasons for their sorrow. I can but offer solace in the final stanza of Longfellow’s carol:

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 is something sought after and desired by most people. I dare say it is one of the greatest blessings God desires for his children. Peace is a state which doesn’t exist without people willing to create an environment where it can thrive. Peace is something which must be defended by men and women who stand ready to defend its existence – often by the use of violent force.

While that may sound like a contradiction in terms, if you think about it, the statement is very true.

Perhaps that is why, when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount he included a reference to those whose profession it is to create and protect Peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. – Matthew 5:9

May your Christmas be a peaceful one – where ever it is you may be.

Here endeth the lesson.
Comments:
Merry Merry Christmas to you and yours.

I too wish for peace.
 
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