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Christmas bells

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

MONROE, MI – The year of 1861 proved to be a dark year for our nation as it marked the beginning of the American Civil War. It also proved to be the beginning of a very dark time for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) who was the most popular American poet of his day. On July 10, 1861, Longfellow’s wife, Fannie, died tragically from severe burns after her dress caught fire the previous day. As Henry tried to extinguish the flames, he was burned so badly on his face that he was unable to attend her funeral. Longfellow would carry the physical and emotional scars of that event for the rest of his life. He grew his trademark beard to cover the physical scars. In his December 1862 journal entry, the emotional scars could not be hidden, “‘A Merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

The following year brought more heartache. On November 27, 1863, Longfellow’s oldest son, Charley, was shot and severely wounded during the Battle of New Hope Church. Longfellow sat by Charley’s bedside for weeks as he recovered. Robert J. Morgan writes; “On Christmas Day, December 25, 1863, Henry gave vent to his feelings in this plaintive carol that can only be understood against the backdrop of war” (Then Sings My Soul, Book 2, p. 97). The plaintive carol that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote eventually became the hymn, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. It conveys the deep emotions of a 57-year-old widowed father of six who observed the darkness of the world around him and the effects it had on his family.

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.”

At the point when Longfellow felt like dropping his head in despair, he heard the Christmas bells sing louder and he penned one final verse…

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.”

How much do we need that reminder ringing in our thoughts! Despite the darkness of sin in this world, our hope is secure in the eternal purposes of God to bring peace through Jesus the Christ. It was the hope God promised at the fall (Genesis 3:15). It was the hope God proclaimed through Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 9:1-7). It was the hope celebrated by the angelic multitudes at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14)! It is a hope that will be fully realized for believers when Jesus returns (2 Thessalonians 1:7). I am no Longfellow, but please graciously allow me to submit a few more lines to take us from the cross to the second coming…

The Prince of Peace has entered in

To glory having conquered sin

Christ gave His life,

A sacrifice

For peace on earth, good-will to men

Repent now and count the cost

Apart from Him your life is lost

His grace imparts,

Faith in our hearts

His peace on earth, good-will to men

Soon comes the day Christ will appear

The Prince of Peace His power clear

Witnessed by all,

In worship fall

With peace on earth, good-will to men

Grace and Peace,




Jay Anderson serves as Lead Pastor at CrossPointe Church in Monroe. Jay and his wife, Kristie, are blessed with four active children (Noel, Deacon, Anna, Selah). Prior to coming to Michigan in November 2016, the Andersons served as church planters in Iowa and cross-cultural workers in East Asia.


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