There is something about Christmas music that enlightens the soul as we ponder the purpose and meaning of Christmas. One of the Christmas hymns is the subject of this Christmas letter, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
On Christmas Day 1863, American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had little to cheer his own heart. His first wife was long dead, and his second wife had died in a fire a year or two before. Adding to his heartache, his son Charles, who had gone against the wishes of his father and joined the Union Army to fight in the war against the South, had been severely wounded in November. Longfellow's poetic voice had been quieted for a while, but, as church bells rang their familiar songs, he took up his pen and wrote these grim lines:
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!"
These words have arrested my attention as I review the news from around the world. Meteorological typhoons wash over millions, while political, economic, cultural, and societal typhoons leave their own forms of devastation in their wake. Turmoil fills the world and no human solution appears equal to the problems. How many have begun their day breathing the same air of despair Longfellow described? The poem eventually became a Christmas carol, which strikes me as odd given its dark nature and imagery after the first stanza or two.
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!
The next stanza describes how the bells sound out a good message, but that the reality of life includes cannons thundering and earthquakes tearing the land apart, leading the poet to conclude:
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!"
But as is the case with so many of the Psalms of David that contain line upon line of complaint and concern for the "way things are," Mr. Longfellow comes to the same conclusion as David: God is still there, and He has the last say.
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!
It is at this point where Mr. Longfellow could use some help from a prophet like Jeremiah who reveals to us the Source of the peace on earth – found in Jeremiah 33:14-15, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. (15) In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.”
If there hadn't been a Christmas, the Bible would be untrue because prophecies of the Old Testament would be left unfulfilled. And if the Bible were untrue, our God would be unknown. If our God is unknown, our sins would be left on the table and our prayers would go unanswered. But Jesus did come into this world to be our Savior — bringing the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Instead of fixating on the idea of presents during Christmas, make sure you realize what happened on that day when Jesus was born and what it means for your faith.
As we approach the end of 2016 from our home to your home, we want to wish you a blessed MERRY CHRISTMAS and a Christ-centered and fruitful NEW YEAR in the Lord during 2017.
Yours because of the Cradle, Cross and the Coming Crown,
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