Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. We are getting so close to Christmas and it gives me such a joyous heart to be singing the Christmas Carols. For the church service today we are singing eight favorite carols. As I review each carol, typing up the verses to be projected on the screen for our church members who are attending in-person, and for those who are connecting online, it’s been interesting to actually read all of the verses. I know the first verses by heart and sometimes the second. But when I delve into the rest of the verses, I am finding myself surprised by the depth of the messages. Come along and let’s explore “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”.
On Christmas day in 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was inspired to write the poem we now know as the “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. It was a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Suffering depression due to the death of his beloved wife and being in the midst of the Civil War, Longfellow found his spirit strengthened as he heard the Christmas bells ringing on that Christmas Day.
The first verse of this particular carol is so pleasant. “I heard the bells on Christmas Day”. It brings our fond memories of past Christmases. And the message of the last line of the first verse is beautiful, “and wild and sweet, the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men”. The Advent Candle being lit this fourth Sunday of Advent is “Peace”, so this makes this a wonderful song for the church service. And it is an eternal wish so often expressed during Christmas time. We see it repeated in holiday literature and Christmas cards.
Verse 2 is more of the same message as verse 1. Sweet and innocuous. “I thought how as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom had rolled along the unbroken song of peace on earth, good-will to men.” The words make me feel safe and peaceful. I love the last phrase that is repeated at the end of each verse “…peace on earth, good-will to men.”
But then we get to the third verse, “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.” This really hits me in my gut. First of all, it hurts to acknowledge there we see and experience strong hate in so many places each day. This song was written over a hundred and fifty years ago so why are these words still so true? There continues to be hate. How do we handle the weight of this truth?
Thank goodness, the song rescues the darkness and gives hope. Verse four goes on to 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.” This offers such hope!
Verse 5 comes out even stronger, offering with conviction that we can turn away the hate and embrace and empower the love for one another. “Till, 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!”
Although we are imperfect in loving every person as God loves us, God loves us anyway. He loved us so much that he sent his son to live among us, to suffer ill-will, yet teach us love and grace. We can fight hate by loving all people. At Christmastime, we see the spirit of generosity show itself in so many ways. We need to keep this spirit going. “Peace on earth, good-will to all!”
Dear God, you offer us renewed hope every day. We must open our eyes to look for the goodness around us. Help us clear our minds so our hearts are open to your love and free to love as you would have as love. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.
Author - Bonnie Barber
Various authors throughout the Chesapeake Bay Mission Center and beyond provide these thought-provoking weekly devotions.