It was Christmas 1864, a time when the nation was divided. The Civil War, which was in no way civil, had brought such suffering to families on both sides of the struggle. It would be four more months before Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House. American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s heart was heavy as he grieved the state of his country and remembered the way things had been just a few years earlier. His wife, Fanny, had lost her life in a tragic fire soon after the war began, and not long after her death, he received the news that his oldest son had been seriously wounded in battle.
His poem “Christmas Bells” was later set to music as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It has never really been on my short list of favorites until this year. I have only quoted three of seven verses, but I can just imagine this man remembering the good old days when the future seemed bright, secure, and certain. It is easy to identify with his sadness and anxiety as I open my newspaper or click the breaking news on my iPad every morning.
Let’s just be honest about this. Despair is not the emotion we want to display at Christmas. We want to inject ourselves into those Norman Rockwell or Currier & Ives prints with the snow and mistletoe and smiling faces of those we love arm in arm with us. We want to think it can’t be Christmas unless the “happily-ever-after” is part of the picture. The truth is that there is pain all around us even as we observe this season that is advertised as peace, joy, and goodwill.
I love Longfellow’s honesty—the fact that as he perceives the world around him in the present moment he documents it, “For hate is strong and MOCKS the song of Peace on earth, good-will to men.” I get that because I see that, too. It makes me sad in the same way it must have made him sad. I am maybe the most non-confrontational person you will ever meet. I like peace and harmony in my family, in my business, and in my world.
But what I feel is exactly as he must have felt as he ends his poem, “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep. The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men!” I believe that completely. I am so not sure what the in-between time may look like, but I have no doubt that I have chosen the winning team!
Christ is Lord. God’s ways are not our ways, but we can lay our heads on our pillows at night and sleep in total peace knowing that He is ruling and reigning and that nothing will come to us that He has not allowed. He will forever supply the divine grace and resources we need to meet every personal challenge—whether it is grief, anxiety, or something else.
Hallelujah. He shall reign forever and ever. Amen!