I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said.
Finding New Joy in Christmas Carols with Elizabeth Rice Handford
My daughters Margi and Ruth and I had a delightful time the other day, singing and playing Christmas carols with a wonderful group of people in an assisted living facility. But afterwards, a sweet little woman came up to me and whispered, “I just haven’t be able to get in the mood for Christmas.” Not surprising, perhaps, for her age and health problems. But recently a young and successful woman said to me, “I just dread Christmas.”
The famous and successful man who wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas day” was also despondent even as he wrote the words. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” on Christmas Day, 1864, in the third year of our civil war. It begins joyfully enough:
I heard the bells on Christmas day Their old familiar carols play;
In music sweet the tones repeat, “There’s peace on earth, good will to men.”
I thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’ unbroken song Of peace on earth, good will to men.
But the words he’d penned about “peace on earth” pierced his heart. “Peace on earth”? Good will to men”? When even as he wrote, hundreds of men were dying on the battlefields of the Civil War? Even when he’d just buried his beloved wife, the light of his life? The words he’d written about peace and good will jeered at him. Admitting the truth, he wrote:
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.”
You may feel the same way this Christmas. The ravages of covid have robbed us of so many loved ones. Our dear country is fragmented into a thousand jagged pieces of hostility and hate. Violence and crime are in the streets. Every trip to the gas station reminds us of double-digit inflation. It’s no wonder we don’t feel like singing jolly little songs about Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snow Man or Santa Claus coming to town!
But after Longfellow penned those lines, he remembered something he’d nearly forgotten:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
For Christ is here; His Spirit near
Brings peace on earth, good will to men.”
And that is the absolute truth! We can experience the presence of the Lord Jesus and have peace, no matter how grievous our circumstances. The night before Jesus was to die on the cross, He told His disciples (and us!):
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. . . .
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Yes, yes, oh, yes! Jesus is the only One who can give us peace in this broken world. May you find it true in Him this Christmas.