Many are familiar with the Carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It has a “ring” to it that invokes the spirit of the season. When we read the poem itself without the music, it lends us to believe that the author has a difficult time at this particular time of the year.
We in the United States are preparing and celebrating the season in the midst of fear, sorrow, and despair for our nation and our culture.
The song tells of the author, Henry Longfellow, of his despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.
After losing his wife, and his son crossing the battle line to join the union army, and finding a letter stating his reasons, coupled with a notification of his son being wounded in battle, Henry Longfellow penned the following poem that reflects his thoughts on Christmas Day in 1863. I think it is very appropriate to our culture today and how we can encourage our congregations to celebrate the birth of Jesus and remember our sufferings within our own community and other communities in our nation.
Below is the full poem and may be useful to read for devotions, or as a bulletin cover:
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 loudly and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail; the right prevail, with peace on the earth, good-will to men."
May we use carols such as these to lift our congregation as worship planners and worship leaders bring to mind that our ever-present God is with us in the midst of these uncertain times and in this Advent/Christmas season.