Intense sadness and profound peace still stir my soul upon hearing one of the most beloved Christmas carols, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
I heard the bells on Christmas day Their old familiar carols play And mild and sweet their songs repeat Of peace on earth good will to men.
These words poured from the pen of one of America’s great poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Longfellow knew tragedy. His words painted the pained and bleak reality of life then and still portray current world affairs.
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.
Longfellow wrote these words a few years after his wife’s tragic death in a house fire. Now he sat at the bedside of his son, wounded in America’s Civil War. Having experienced personal despair and the horror and hatred of war, Longfellow understood that God’s Presence overshadowed life’s tragic moments. His words offer evidence of strong and sustaining hope.
Then rang the bells more loud and deep God is not dead, nor does he sleep The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.
We still celebrate Christmas as a season of joy and peace, all the while surrounded by despair and hatred. But it is precisely in this fog of despair that we remember the why of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. God Himself pierced the sad shell of this world in the form of Jesus. “And they called his name Immanuel, which means ‘God With Us.’”
God knows. God cares. God acted. Jesus changes hatred into love, despair into joy, darkness into light, and restlessness into profound peace. Celebrate Christ this Christmas.