Monday, December 24, 2018

One of My Favorite Christmas Carols

We all have a favorite Christmas carol.  I have several and it's hard to pick just one.  But with the state of the world, the pain and suffering, and the worrisome anger and hatred that plagues our country, one comes to mind. "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" is based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I present the poem:

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!

And 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!

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!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

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."

Wow. He wrote it when our nation was being tried to its very soul: the Civil War. Longfellow wrote it on Christmas day in 1863.  

For America, this war had turned into a nightmare.  Divisions were everywhere: brother against brother, family against family, region against region, race against race.  Even churches divided against each other, over slavery and racial equality.  The number of wounded, dying and dead were overwhelming, and in the years to come, would come to be almost unbelievable to that generation.   

Was this a sentimental, "God is on our side" kind of poem that appears when major conflicts arise?  No, I don't think so.  Isaiah speaks of a Child to be born to us, in familiar words (thank you, Mr. Handel!):

"For a child is born to us, A son is given to us; And the government Is upon His shoulder; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (9:6) 

A child--one of us.  A son--a member of the family.  But He is not just a precious child, and beloved son... He is the Ruler of the universe and of mankind.  Only He can promote a sustainable justice and mercy, due to who He is.  Who is He?
  • "Something wonderful, admirable, a miracle of God" who will "devise, guide, purpose"
  • "the strong" and "one true God" 
  • "the everlasting, perpetual" who is the "God of His people" 
  • "Ruler, keeper, governor" of "completeness, soundness, welfare, peace"  
Wow.  This is why, at the end of the poem, the bells, like the angels flying in the skies over the heads of the shepherds, could ring out such exuberant praise.  God has not vacated the throne of the universe, despite all the madness going on around us.  

So, this carol, echoing out of the past, stills extols the glory of God.

We need to do so as well.

Merry Christmas, dear readers.

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