I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Published 7:10 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2015

One of my favorite movies is the 1992 version of the James Fennimore Cooper novel The Last of the Mohicans. The story is about early American history when the French and the British were fighting to see whether this new world would speak English or French. War is constant in the movie and one scene that I like includes the main character, Nathaniel, and the woman he has fallen in love with, Cora.

Violence is all around the fort where they are and Cora says to Nathaniel, “The whole world’s on fire, isn’t it?”

With all that is going on in France and Europe, the Middle East, and in many places inside our own country, that’s a sentiment that is easily understood. It does seem, at times, like someone has pulled the most important thread in the tapestry of the world and it is unravelling.

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As I write this, another thought comes into my spirit. Churches all over the country and the world are beginning to prepare for their Christmas programs. Our Branchville church is opening their musical program with “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” As we are practicing, there are lyrics that make me want to shout from the rooftops. For instance, a recurring line is “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Are you familiar with that song? It was written as a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during a time when he thought his whole world was on fire and peace on earth was far from his thinking.

The year was 1863 and, as any American with a knowledge of American history would know, our country was at war with itself. The Civil War was raging and, without his father’s blessings, Charles Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth’s oldest son, joined the Union army.

Charles Longfellow felt that his duty to his country took precedence over his father’s natural desire to see his son safe and secure. You probably can see where this is going. Henry’s son was severely injured, but not killed. In addition, the poet’s wife died in an accidental fire. Indeed, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s world was burning down.

In this song “I Heard the Bells” there is a line that expresses Longfellow’s sentiment hugely. “And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said. For hate is strong that mocks the song of peace on earth goodwill to men.”

It’s easy to find despair and doubt these days. Hate is strong. People are hated for the wealth they may possess, for the color of their skin, or for the beliefs in their hearts. In addition, there is great doubt as to whether we have the answers to that despair and hopelessness. I will admit that I don’t know.

The climax of the song, though, is in a few words that, as I said, makes me want to shout “Amen!” Towards the end of the poem upon which the song is based, there is a great truth that Longfellow writes and we would wise to hear. The line reads “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong will fail, the right prevail with peace on earth goodwill to men.”

I realize that we haven’t even eaten our turkey and dressing yet and Christmas is many weeks away, thankfully. But, it gives me great confidence whether it is November or February, whenever, that I can be assured that “A child is born to us, a Son is given and He will be known as the Prince of Peace.” That’s what we really need.