Points to Ponder:I heard the bells on Christmas day
Points to Ponder
I heard the bells on Christmas day
By Pastor Whitmore
Weekly Contributing Writer
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined." (Isaiah 9:2)
Christmas celebrates the Light, Jesus Christ who has come; but what about those who are dwelling in darkness, who know the shadow of death personally?
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, renown 19th century scholar and America's greatest poet, once said that every person carries within them "secret sorrows"; that "often times we call a man cold, when he is only sad."
Longfellow rose to fame, fortune, and happiness early in life. In his twenties, he married and was offered a teaching position at Harvard. But within their first year, his wife died.
Stricken with grief he poured himself into his work. In 1842, seven years later, he remarried, and enjoyed the quick growth of a beautiful family. Five children were born to the happy couple. Again, on top of the world, he was famous, wealthy, and happy in life. Then in 1861, tragedy again struck. While lighting a match, his wife's clothes caught fire and she burned to death. His family was torn with grief. And so was his country.
The Civil War was ripping apart the young nation that his ancestors had helped form and build. His oldest son, 19-year-old Charles, was wounded in battle. Longfellow's pleading prayers became angry cries for answers. "Where is the peace?" he wondered aloud. Does God or anyone know? Taking pen in hand he wrestled with his own question. He perceived the spiritual aspects of the Civil War, a battle between God's love and Satan's hate; understanding versus anger. Then on December 25, 1863, as the church bells rang on Christmas morning, he was moved to pen a poem that expressed the darkness and hopelessness of his time. As Ace Collins notes, it would have been a hopeless testimony to the power of Satan if not for the concluding two verses:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men."
It was the tolling of Christmas bells that inspired his poem, a focus on Christmas in a context of war.
In 1872, Englishman John Baptiste Calkin wrote the music that would convey the sadness of the beginning verses and then the deep faith and powerful hope in Longfellow's conclusion.
During the succession of wars America has fought since the Civil War, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" has expressed the plea of those who live in dark times and dwell in the shadow of death. Where is the peace? Where is the goodwill toward men? The answer is in Christ, the Prince of Peace; God who became a man and dwelt among us to make this hope true: "The wrong shall fail, the right shall prevail, with peace on earth goodwill to men."
Source: Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Ace Collins, (Zondervan, 2001)
Hilltop Christian Fellowship, 12624 Trinity Church Drive, Clear Spring. Listen to Rev. Whitmore on WJEJ-1240 AM, Tues and Thurs at 10:45AM and 10:45PM. www.hilltopchristianfellowship.com.