From Despair to Peace

“Then 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.”

How dare they?  How dare the bells play the song of “peace on earth, goodwill to men”?  How dare people gather to sing about joy and happiness?  How dare people gather to talk about joy coming to the world; have they actually looked at the world?  Do they actually know what’s going on?  Are they paying attention to what the world looks like right now?  How dare the angels come singing songs of peace and goodwill when reality is anything but peaceful or good?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this poem on Christmas day in 1863.  It was not long after his wife had died in a house fire that Longfellow received news that his son had been injured while fighting in the Civil War.  Alone and grieving, Longfellow wrote about the pain and loneliness he felt.  But he knew there was more than just the grief.  He knew there was hope.  This is the poem that Longfellow wrote.

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!”

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.”

The day of my brother’s funeral, I stood on the porch of my parents’ house with my father.  They live on a street about a quarter of a mile away from the main highway, so I could see the cars driving north and south; people going about their business.  I looked at my dad and wondered out loud how people could still be going to work, or shopping, or doing fun things on the day of Robert’s funeral.  How dare they?  Didn’t they know what was going on?

My dad gently reminded me that life would go on.  He pointed to the number of people who came to Robert’s funeral, not necessarily because they knew and loved Bob, but because they loved the people who loved Bob.  Because of love, not grief–love, they showed up.  My life had changed forever; I felt the pain of death and grief in a way I never had before.  In despair, I was bowing my head.  But these people who loved me and cared for me were just like the bells that rang more loud and deep.  They were singing to me, “God is not dead, nor does He sleep.”  My life was going to continue.

When we step outside and look at the world around us there are a lot of reasons to feel despair.  There are a lot of reasons to think there is no peace on earth.

But the Christmas story tells us something different.  God sent His Son into the pain, into the despair, into the world that had no peace.  God sent Jesus to proclaim a message of peace.  Because of that, we can hold on when life seems to be bleak; we can endure when we would rather give up; we can remember that night will revolve into day once again and life will go on.  The gift of Christmas is that the bells can indeed keep ringing.

As Jesus was nearing the end of His life, He gathered with His closest companions, shared a meal with them, and spoke to them.  The last words He spoke before entering into a time a prayer are found at the end of John 16:  “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  This world will give us trouble; Jesus gives us peace.

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

Have peace.  Take heart.  For He has overcome the world.

One thought on “From Despair to Peace

  1. Reblogged this on a second time and commented:

    During the month of August, I am re-sharing some of my most read posts. I wrote this one 18 months ago based on one of my favorite Christmas songs. I hope it is a good reminder that in the midst of our despair, God is present.

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