Wonder Boi Writes

25 Songs of Christmas: Day 23 – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Today’s song is one of my modern favorites.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play

I’ve only known it a couple of years, and the first time I heard it, I fell to my knees and cried, the longing was so raw it shook me.

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 goodwill to men.

I certainly felt that way again in the last few weeks.  How could I sing about peace on earth these days? That question has suffocated us all this Advent.  And yet we’re still called to prepare our hearts, to open them, to make room for joy. But why?

Then rang the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead nor does He sleep.

Even in the midst of pain and darkness, we find reasons to celebrate.  We still come together out of some need, some yearning bigger than anything going on in our individual lives.

 A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

Such wishful thinking, the hint of something more to long for this Holiday season, something I desperately needed to connect to in this moment. It feels so timely to ache for peace with those around us, and around the world. Then I learned just tonight, that the songs lyrics are actually taken from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem called Christmas Bells which he wrote after his son killed in the Civil War.  These words, so fitting to my longing for God amid the chaos aren’t modern after all, a more than 150 years old. The pain may have been the same, but the conflict seems so distant now.

Then ringing singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day

In 1863 Wadsworths couldn’t have foreseen the end to the misery that engulfed his nation.  He couldn’t possibly have imagined what we’ve seen, not only an end to slavery, and the union restored, but voting rights for African Americans, desegregation, interracial marriage, and even a black president.  It’s so easy now to see what God was able to make out of even very worst of human suffering.

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men.

I marvel at that transition. Though far from complete, I see how much we’ve learned about our fellow man in that time.  Even more it leads me to question where we’re being led now.  What will our own grandchildren, and their grandchildren know about the the human race that we can’t even begin to imagine? How is God working toward peace right now? More importantly, how are we being called to become part of that peace?  These questions call to us all, throughout the ages, and on this very night.

Do you hear the bells they’re ringing? 
They’re like the angels singing
Open up your heart and hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men


December 23, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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