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making the connection | December 10, 2017

December 7, 2017

Henry Longfellow, the famous 19th century American poet and educator, knew what it felt like to lack hope and peace. In 1861 his wife, Fanny, tragically died after her dress caught on fire. The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year later, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Two years later his oldest son Charles, who had joined the Union Army, was severely wounded during the Mine Run Campaign. A bullet passed just under his shoulder blades, skimming his spine. He avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch. Thankfully, Charles eventually recovered.

Longfellow composed a poem on Christmas Day in 1863 that sought to convey the contrast he saw in the world around him and felt in his own heart with the joy he knew others were experiencing during the Christmas season. The country was deeply divided due to the Civil War. He was still heartbroken over the death of his wife and injury of his son. He heard the Christmas bells ringing and knew people were singing “peace on earth,” but he couldn’t easily identify that peace in his world. But as he kept writing he finally settled on how God’s presence brings hope and peace in the midst of a troubled world. Longfellow’s poem eventually became the Christmas song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” that many people know and love:

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.

I thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along th’unbroken song 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.”

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.”

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.

– I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

At times we may feel like there is no peace on earth. But heaven came down to earth 2000 years ago and brought hope and peace. And because of that we can join together to proclaim that, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.” – Sarah Neel

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