written by Ginger DenHerder
The familiar Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” dates back to 1863. During the American Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard the church bells on Christmas morning and felt the inconsistency of God’s peace and the war dividing the nation. The poem he wrote that Christmas Day, “Christmas Bells”, expresses the grief and distress of his current life:
“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!’”
Despair might be the final word of those without Christ, but Longfellow continues:
Then rang 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.”
In the midst of difficulty and struggle, Longfellow acknowledges the truth of God’s power to prevail! His circumstances have not changed but he has gained Heaven’s perspective.
The musical accompaniment adds a haunting and beautiful addition to Longfellow’s rich words that captures the tone of his feelings. Grief and sorrow are not exclusive to war. The brokenness of life cannot be whitewashed at Christmas nor can the hope of Christmas be forgotten. Longfellow offers us the balance of naming the turmoil and seeking comfort and refuge in Christ.
This Christmas I hope you listen with your heart for Truth to speak. God can speak into your pain and He can help you listen for the pain others are wanting to verbalize.
“Open up your heart to hear them”