Thursday, December 24, 2015

God Will Give Us Peace

This Christmas season I’ve shared a bit of the history of two well-known carols. Now with Christmas upon us and soon to be swept away with memories of Christmas days past, I’d like to share the story of one more song. This one is not as old as the others. It’s an American carol written in the midst of a tumultuous period in our nation’s history. Inspiration came not only as a result of national despair, but also from personal grief.
The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words. April of 1861 brought the start of the Civil War. Then in July, the writer’s wife died when her dress caught fire. Trying to save her, Longfellow suffered severe burns to his hands and face. Her death left him to raise their five children alone.
That Christmas he wrote in his journal: "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." The following Christmas he wrote: "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace."
During the next year, Longfellow’s eldest son was severely injured in battle. That Christmas, the poet was silent. His son lived, but the war continued to rip his country apart. The world had changed, and perhaps beautiful words were no longer needed. They weren’t enough to offer hope either to the poet or to the reader.
Then on Christmas day, 1864, Longfellow allowed hope to return as he wrote “Christmas Bells.” Did he visualize the end of the horrible war? Did his son’s recovery lift him from depression? Perhaps he simply recalled that God cannot be defeated. That war and death and loss must give way to peace and life and gain.
In 1872, John Baptiste Calkin added music to Longfellow’s poem and gave us the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The world has changed a few times since then. Even this past year, it has changed again. Turmoil is commonplace. The future is uncertain. For some, our nation feels a bit less like home. Peace on earth seems like a fleeting dream as mankind turns away from God’s good will.
But wars will end. The future is sealed. This world is not our home. Peace is eternal. And God cannot be defeated!
Here are the last two stanzas of Longfellow’s poem:
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!"
Have a hope-filled, peaceful, blessed, Merry Christmas.

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