I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day


Monday, December 10, 2018

“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 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." —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–1882

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “ Lamentations 3: 22-23

The poem and it’s musical renderings convey the struggle for humanity in the face of the horrors of war. Peaceful cries are drowned out by canon fire. At the nadir of despair, fresh hope is found in faith. This progression from apparent joy down to hellish collapse roughly parallels my journey of faith from a false sense of knowledge to hopelessness in a daily suffering without relent. Then, I found a church, found new truth and found my way home to deeper understanding.

This progression from ignorant happiness to the depths of doubt reminds me of Old Testament trials, God’s testing of man’s beliefs. The New Testament words of our Lord, as portrayed by His disciples, show the same redemption after doubt. As Jesus bids farewell to his human followers, He is alone with his doubts and fears. Then, just as in the last two stanzas of Bells, faith is restored as the sun begins to rise after a miserable lonely night. Hope is born in witness of the Living God who never sleeps.

Click here to listen.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for Jesus. In His holy name, Amen.

—Al Taylor