“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!”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Christmas Bells)
The poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was composed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on December 25, 1864, and turned into a hymn a few years later. The language and imagery are powerful – they do not derive from a comfortable, unchallenged faith and life. Tom Stewart, who wrote “The Story Behind ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’,” gives us a feel for the time (near the end of the American Civil War) that Wadsworth penned these words, as well as relaying the terrible personal tragedies Wadsworth had recently suffered. Not only had the terrible Civil War begun in 1861, but Wadsworth’s wife, Fanny, accidentally started herself on fire on April 12, 1861. She ran to his office for help, but he was not able to do much, and she passed away the next morning. Nearly a year later, his son Charles was severely wounded in a Civil War Battle. Wadsworth’s journal entries over those years show a man struggling with his faith. Christmas only seemed to mock his grief as he looked for answers:
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.”
However, in the end, the celebration seems to have given him the strength and conviction that God is real and is there, and will act to set things right in His time, no matter the seeming evidence to the contrary:
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.”
The celebration of the incarnation honors the day when God took on human flesh and entered His creation in a new way, demonstrating His good will toward men and offering peace with God to men who would only believe and accept it. It is a message of God’s kindly attitude toward the undeserving (Grace). The GIFT of peace which He secured through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, is still being offered free of cost to ALL those who simply call upon His name.
Yes, this life is full of challenges, trouble, and grief. The evidence of evil is all around us, but God’s goodness and love will prevail. Grief and trouble can make us feel all alone, but God is there and will bind up our wounds. This celebration is about God’s love and faithfulness. So, a simple “Merry Christmas” is more than a pleasant greeting – it is a reminder of God’s love and grace towards us and of a glorious future with Him, where “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail,” and He will wipe all the tears from our eyes.
With that, we wish you a Merry Christmas!
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