Peace on earth. Doesn’t that sound nice? Can you imagine a world that is . . . peaceful?
At the core of our beings, this is what we all deeply long for.
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone everywhere could just find a way to live in peace with one another?
Of course it would. Yet in this world, it is so unattainable. Just check your news feed to see evidence of that.
So how is it that these angels speak of ‘peace on earth, good will to men’ in a world that only seems to be getting more and more out of control?
In the midst of the American Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lamented this lack of peace in his poem, Christmas Bells. He writes of a nation torn apart, angry, and filled with bitter rage. He writes of a nation where the church bells still ring, but wondering if it would ever find peace again.
At the start of the war, in 1861, Longfellow’s wife died in a tragic house fire, when her flammable dress caught fire. Longfellow unsuccessfully attempted to save her, receiving severe burns on his hands and face. It is speculated that the literal and figurative scarring from this event is what caused him to grow a beard in his later years.
In 1863 his son Charley ran off to join the Union army, entering the war against his father’s wishes as he did not want any other family lost. Longfellow soon received word that his son was wounded by a bullet, and faced possible paralysis (he ultimately survived with no further concerns).
In this poem, which has since been set to music and has become a beloved song with several different versions, Longfellow states that in spite of this beautiful promise of Scripture, there does not truly seem to be any peace on earth, especially in the midst of war. One of the verses which is rarely sung, deals directly with the cannon fire and destruction of that raging war:
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!
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!”
It doesn’t take much to see that in this mad world of ours, hate continues to be strong. Hate continues to mock.
Hate has found its way into everything we do.
Hate drives our thoughts and reactions towards others.
Hate has even found a way into our cars. We can’t drive to the grocery store without exchanging some amount of road rage hatred with someone we probably don’t even know.
Hate has found its way into our homes, our jobs, our relationships.
Hate is indeed strong, and openly mocks the song of peace on earth.
Yet, isn’t that what Satan has always done? Hasn’t he always worked to make a mockery of all that is good, and right and pure?
Hasn’t he always assaulted all that is Godly and peaceful?
Yet, there is hope, and Longfellow ends his poem reflecting on that hope and peace:
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.”
This is what we believe.
We believe that we live as strangers on this earth.
We believe that we are citizens of a Kingdom where there is nothing but peace, and we are doing our best to live out that citizenship in a fallen chaotic world.
We believe that the struggles of this life are not all that there is.
We believe that through Christ, Creation will be restored.
We believe that Faith and Hope and Love and Good Will can once and for all triumph over evil, and that there will indeed be Peace on Earth.
Christmas matters, and I pray that this year we will seek the peace that only Christ can offer, and listen for the Heavenly bells of peace ringing around us.