I Heard the Bells

There is a poem written on December 25, 1864 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Originally, he titled the poem “Christmas Bells” and it was written during the American Civil War. It is more familiar these days as the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

This has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols. I love the music. I love the words. It is, quite simply, a beautiful message. I recently learned more about this song’s history, and how it was written during a time of deep, personal darkness. This only makes it more meaningful.

This year, in my church Christmas program, this carol is featured, and one night during a rehearsal, I was struck by the words of the song. I heard again these words,

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!”

I thought of all the hateful words being thrown about every day in this country, and I realized this song is as relevant today as it was the day it was written.

We may not be engaged in a civil war, but our country is bitterly divided. There are forces at work in our nation that want to see us torn apart. We are divided along political lines, racial lines, gender lines. There is so much division, we can’t even seem to agree on what we disagree about.

We make a mockery of ourselves as we clamor loudly for peace and yet we sling ugly slurs at our neighbors. We accuse others of what we ourselves are guilty of, as if by yelling all the louder, we can erase hatred with hatred. Instead of helping, we hurt. Instead of unity, there is division. Instead of peace, we bring violence. Instead of love, there is only hate.

Where hate seems strong, let the bells ring louder. Where there seems only division, let the bells bring us back together. There can be peace on earth, but we must find it first within ourselves. Let the bells of peace and love ring out.

The bells are ringing. They ring out all the louder, spreading their ongoing message of hope and forgiveness, of peace and good will. Are you listening?