Thursday, December 24, 2015

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Once again, Christmas is upon us, and with it a myriad of memories and thoughts.
The words to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" were written more than
150 years ago, but the message rings true today, perhaps
even more that when it was first written.
Each of us brings past remembrances into the holiday. For many, those memories are sweet. For others who have experienced loss of someone they love, they may be bittersweet. For still others, looking at current events and turmoil around the world (or close to home), the Christmas message of "peace on earth good will to men" seems like an unattainable dream.

Henry Longfellow wrote the poem "Christmas Bells" in the middle of the American Civil War. His oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father's blessing, or even his knowledge. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, only after Charles had left.

"I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer," Charles wrote. "I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good".[1]

Henry Longfellow's son, Charles, soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in November, a few short months after enlisting, he was severely wounded. [2] Coupled with the recent loss of his wife Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire, Henry Longfellow was inspired to write a poem, "Christmas Bells" on Christmas day, 1863. The words of the poem were adapted in 1872 for the carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." [3]

The lyrics let us look into the heart of a person who awakens on Christmas morning in utter grief and despair. He had just lost his wife in a tragic fire, and his son had been severely wounded in a battle on American soil. Although these words were written more than 150 years ago, they are probably even more relevant today than when they were originally written and many reading this can identify with that grief of heart.

As we look around us - near and far - we see much heartbreak, devastation, and turmoil, yet if we listen closely, we can hear something beautiful, albeit from a distance. It is the message of Christmas, an old, old message, yet one that is as true as the night it was first delivered by angels to a group of ragtag shepherds: "Unto you is born this night a SAVIOR who is Christ the Lord." This SAVIOR has come to set things right.

Why are things not right then, you ask? Let us remember that the story is still unfolding. The events of the end, while already written in the book, have yet to unfold.

Whether this Christmas finds you rejoicing or battling despair of the soul, let your eyes turn toward Jesus. It is in Him, and only Him that we find true peace.

The Lyrics

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!

I 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!

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.

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!

[1] Calhoun, Charles. Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004: 223–224. ISBN 978-0-8070-7039-0
[2] Studwell, William. The Christmas Carol Reader. Binghamton, New York: The Haworth Press, 1995: 166. ISBN 1-56024-974-9
[3] Ibid.

photo credit: <a href="">christmas bells tockholes 2009</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, Michelle. Love the poem, love the back story. Plus it goes very well with what I'll be preaching this Sunday.


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