I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
A human, broken, and messy perspective is met with a battle for faith in the mighty works of God that are unseen yet supremely powerful and ultimately victorious.
An unlikely scenario for a Christmas song.
Based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, this song was written at some point after the end of the Civil War. We can feel the dark times of suffering penned by a master wordsmith, flowing from his heart. We can relate to his expression of pain and futility. Suffering in some way is a part of life for every human being.
We can feel the excitement when the writer tastes victory; when what he knows becomes what he feels. The song frames this climactic moment with hope, and then encourages us to share that hope that now shines forth unobstructed.
Join me as we step into the words of this song.
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.
It’s Christmas Day in our little village. Cold outside and within. Everyone throughout our close community hears the same old bells ringing out the same old songs every Christmas. All the songs have a central theme of peace on earth and good will to men. The songs are “old familiar carols” and we all know the words of each song. We hear these same songs every single year, in the same exact order, at the same exact time. Over and over and over. We hear, but we stopped listening long ago.
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.”
For some reason, this year we stop to really listen to the age old words that are running through our minds as the bells play the music. And we suddenly realize that these words depict a time of peace. We are so saddened to grasp for the first time that what these songs express is no longer true. Strong emotions surround us and fill us full of pain and frustration and hopelessness at the realization that peace is gone. Yes, peace is gone forever, and our lives are full of the impact of that. In broken and bleeding and hurting hearts, there is no love, no worth, no hope, and definitely no peace. Hate has overcome. Hate has won. “…for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then rang the bells more loud and deep. “God is not dead nor doth He sleep.” Peace on Earth, Peace on Earth. “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.”
Do you hear it? It’s a battle cry. Strong and unbelievably loud, yet silent. Gently crashing through our insightful reflection on everything that’s wrong in our world. But also confidently proclaiming with expression stronger than words that there is so much more that’s right. Finally, we look up, and we see. With truly seeing comes understanding. We get it. Hate is strong, but His love is so much stronger. Hate does not have the upper hand or the victory.
Ps 121 1-4: “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.”
“God is not dead nor doth He sleep”. God is very much alive, and He is working all the time. Even when we see absolutely no evidence that He is doing anything at all.
Case in point: Just think of all that had to perfectly fall into place for Joseph and Mary to arrive in Bethlehem right before Jesus is born so that he would be born there and fulfill prophecy. (Micah 5:2, 4-5; Matt 2:6)
We know with absolute certainty that “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail”. We know because God is always working to bring about His perfect plan that has no room for wrong.
Then 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.
“The world revolved from night to day”. Now we can see the light of day when before we had gotten so familiar with the darkness of night that we thought this was all that existed. The light of day has pushed out the darkness that marked our lives until we chose to look up and see. The light is incredibly beautiful, and illuminates everything good in our lives. We see love and joy, and yes, we see peace. And now those songs of old are comforting and we cling to their truth.
Do you hear the bells? They’re ringing: “Peace on Earth.” Like the angels singing: “Peace on Earth.” Open up your heart and hear them: “Peace on Earth, good will to men.”
We are so moved by how heaven came down in the form of our Savior Jesus Christ to rescue us. To bring us peace and so much more. He brought us back from our pain and desperation to see beyond the physical to the spiritual truth we stand on. We hold His hand and take in the glorious view of doing life together. We now know we must share this with others and invite them to open their hearts to the truth. A truth that is deeper than words and truer than what we are bombarded with using our five senses. A truth that loves fiercely and unconditionally, forever.