In 1861, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, following the tragic death of his wife and the outbreak of the American Civil War wrote a poem entitled “Christmas Bells,” which has come down to us as the carol, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It tells of a man who hears the bells ringing Christmas morning, but the tragedy of his life has made him deaf to the Good News and glad tidings they proclaim:
“Then 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.”
For many, these words will resonate. For each of us there will be moments and events, both in our personal lives and in the world at large, that seem to rob us of our hope, and rob us of our joy. For many, a loss that occurred around Christmas time makes this season all the more difficult.
Yet, the remarkable Good News that rings out into the brokenness of our world and the brokenness of our dreams is the news of a God that willfully chooses to be with us when hope seems lost and joy forsaken. It is the news of a God who seeks us out, and allowing the pains of this life to take their course, offers a gentle hand, stretched out in love. It is the news of a God who, having journeyed with us through the changes and chances of life, brings new life and light to our hearts in the person of Christ Jesus. In Christ Jesus, hope returns and joy is rekindled.
That transforming power rings out in the final verse of Longfellow’s poem,
“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.”
Truly, God is not dead, nor doth he sleep. The bells peal out for us this Christmas seasons with Good News and glad tidings of great joy. They chime a sound that recalls us to the reality of a Christ that is born into our midst, who not only journeys with us, but recreates us that we might indeed make the angel song of “Peace on Earth, good will to all people” our song, too.
May the Holy Child of Bethlehem bring you joy and peace this Christmastide.
c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves