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Are The Christmas Bells Beings Drowned Out

By Pastor Phillip Howle
web posted December 26, 2014

RELIGION – Over the past few days many people have been posting a sort year in review movie on Facebook. I have enjoyed looking at the apparently joyful lives of all of them. I posted my own. The pictures are all of happy events and joy. They are shared at a time of the year that is supposed to be a joyful time of celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  However, as I have written about before, Facebook and social media is only a projection of life.

I have felt a little bit like my celebration of Christmas this season has only been a projection of joy in my own life. Frankly, I have been conflicted as I have read “Peace on Earth” and watched as the very fabric of our nation is seemingly ripped apart.

I don’t care for the political views (especially abortion) of our President, but I was happy at his election because he was the first biracial president and I felt that it showed how far we had come as a nation.  He even proclaimed we were moving to a post-racial era in our nation.  I rejoiced in this and I prayed he would help our nation accomplish this.  But sadly we are more racially divided as a nation than we have ever been during the 34 year span of my life time.

We all know the stories of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner; we know the burning, looting, and violence associated with them. There were many peaceful protests, but these were overshadowed by the other. We mourn the death of two innocent police officers in New York this past weekend in an evil act of retribution. We know there are people and groups who make a living by not helping hurting people, but simply exploiting and ripping into wounds and dividing our nation for personal profit. I hate it. I hate the way it makes me feel. I hate the thoughts that have been in my mind. I hate to see it hurting our nation.

Then we have the almost weekly reports of Christians being brutally slaughtered, beheaded, and raped all because of their rejection of Islam. Last week, 4 boys all under the age of 15 refused to convert to Islam and had their heads cut off by ISIS. I have felt “Peace on Earth” has been pretty far away, almost nonexistent. But I was encouraged this week as I came across a great Christmas Carol that I did not know very well. "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

The fourth verse really resonated with me.  “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.” I felt the same way as I thought of the division of our nation and the hurt of many in our own community at tragedies they have faced and are enduring.  I frankly was frustrated and angry with God.  As I listen to Johnny Cash sing the carol, I pulled out a book I had about the stories behind different Christmas Carols.

In the book it told how the carol was written by the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  His first wife died after the couple moved to Harvard. He mourned her for seven long years before he remarried. A happy season ensued and his second wife gave birth to five children. However, at the very moment when Henry should have been celebrating the joys brought by his talents, financial security, and stature, tragedy again struck. In spite of being given honorary degrees at Oxford and Cambridge, and an invitation to Windsor by Queen Victoria, 1861 was a year filled with great sadness.

While lighting a match, Longfellow’s second wife’s dress caught fire. She quickly ran to Longfellow’s nearby study for help.  He immediately tried to extinguish the flames with a small rug, and when that failed, he threw his arms around his wife to smother the flames, causing him to sustain serious burns on his face, arms, and hands. His heroic act did not suffice, and his wife died the next morning of her injuries. Longfellow was unable to even attend the funeral. Later photographs of Longfellow after the fire show him with a full beard, since he was no longer able to shave properly due to the burns and scarring on his face, a constant reminder of that tragedy.

The coming of the Christmas season in the Longfellow house became a time of grieving for his wife while trying to provide a happy time for the children left at home. It was during Christmas 1862 that he wrote in his journal, “A ‘merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

He had also suffered another disappointment when his oldest son, Charley Longfellow, left their Cambridge, Mass. home, and enlisted in the Union Army much against the wishes of his father. Later in the Battle of New Hope Church in Orange, VA., that his son Lt. Longfellow sustained injuries which seriously disabled him. He was hit in the shoulder and the ricocheting bullet took out some portions of several vertebrae. It was reported that he missed being paralyzed by less than one inch.  Longfellow traveled to where his injured son was hospitalized and brought him home to recover. And so on Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of five children, sat down and began to write the poem that was later turned into a carol. 

The carol was also written during the Civil War, a time when the nation was at its most divided.  There are two other verses that we don’t sing in the carol but were originally wrote that emphasize his feelings surrounding the War: “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.”

So with all the tragic events of his personal life and the events in the life of our nation he was still able to pen the final verse. A verse we all need to hear and believe in our hearts this Christmas “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.”

I am trying to pray for our world, nation, state, and community that people will see as NFL player Benjamin Watson said “we don’t have a skin problem, but a sin problem.” The only hope for sin problem was born two thousand years ago into a land torn by racial strife of Jew and Gentile animosity. Because of Jesus we can celebrate and pray for the reality the Apostle spoke of in Ephesians 2:13-19 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  (14)  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (15) by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (16) and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  (17)  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  (18)  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  (19) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”

May we hear the “bells more loud and deep” and may we have full confidence that despite the appearance, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; “and may we keep the faith that “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.”

Praying a Peaceful and Christ focused Christmas for all of God’s children in Edgefield this Christmas!

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