I heard the bells

I'm a huge fan of hymns - those oft deep wells of poetry sung from country churches to concert halls. They are a wonderful form of worship. I have this old hymn book, "Hymns of the Spirit" that I keep nearby from which I sing hymns sometimes. I don't have the best voice so I try to do it while the washer is running - my office is right by the laundry room. But I love to sing those old hymns.

I sang, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day this morning and saw the author is Henry Longfellow. I did a little research about the history behind it. A poem he wrote during the Civil War is the basis for the song. He penned it after hearing his eldest son had been shot and crippled. This grief was heaped upon him but 2 years after the horrible death of his wife, Fanny, who had caught fire in his home. He, unable to extinguish her, suffered severe burns to his face and lost her the next day.

A website stated, "The first Christmas after Fanny's death, Longfellow wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." A year later after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace."

Not all of you have joy this Christmas. Many of you have lost people you love or are fighting terrible circumstances. Many of you are suffering financial collapse or battling unending illness or agonizing through watching a loved one battle all too wearily.

Read for me (or sing if you know the tune) Longfellow's poem, "Christmas Bells", by a man who suffered the losses of this age. If they look unfamiliar, the 4th and 5th stanzas are not in the song and refer to the Civil War.

Christmas Bells

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."

This season is about celebrating the beginning of our hope. Not the culmination of it. It is not about the earth being at peace but God being with us in the tumult. The glorious mystery of the incarnation, so impossible for me to fathom, is that God would come and be one of us so that in His suffering with us He could show us what hope really was. Who hope really was. Because our hope is not in events but in a person. In Jesus. The world is fallen and needs to be redeemed and we suffer the fall day by day. And yet God is not dead! He does not sleep! No! He is With Us - Immanuel. God be praised that He does not leave us forever in our suffering but allows it for only a time. And that time of suffering is not wasted by the Lord who collects each tear in a bottle simply to demonstrate how tender is His love for us. And He will bring peace. On earth. And good will to men. One day. May it be soon, oh Lord. The days for some grow weary.


Jim said...

You may have seen it already, but my Dad wrote a little devotional based on this song. Read it here: I Heard the Bells

Anonymous said...

Brandon! you MUST MUST MUST hear Casting Crown's rendition of this song!! I posted the video on my facebook as well as on my own blog, a couple entires ago. My blog is thetaskathand.wordpress.com We saw Casting Crowns in concert Saturday nite and they did it live. phenemonal. They also were invited to sing it at the Christmas in Washington special Sunday night. He (Mark Hall) gives the story behind it every time he sings it. I started loving this song about a year ago and was SO excited to see mercy me and stephen curtis chapman put it on their latest Christmas albums. But, Casting Crown's rendition is above and beyond - you'll never hear it the same again. It's on youtube as well if you can't find it on my facebook or blog.