With the growing disturbances in our world this Christmas, I thought of re-publishing the below from my December 2017 post.
“Silver bells. Silver Bells. It’s Christmas time in the city. Ring-a-ling. Hear them ring. Soon it will be Christmas Day.” – Composers: Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. (1950)
Not long ago I heard of a certain residential neighborhood that took a nearby church to court. Their complaint surrounded the bells joyfully ringing from the church steeple on Sunday mornings. I will assume these would be the same neighbors who clamored about Sunday morning traffic around the church, before and after services. I didn’t attend the trial, but I just know that if I read the transcript of the proceedings, certainly someone said something like, “What’s with all the bells?”
It’s a valid question. So, what’s up with all the bells?
Imagine you’ve had a wonderful 18 year marriage with an incredibly loving and supportive spouse. Whatever the world dishes out, you had shade and shelter at home with your understanding mate. Growing a family together has been a true gift. Now imagine, that the love of your life tragically perished in a devastating accident when her clothes caught fire.
Imagine, by way of this nightmare in life, you are left with children to raise on your own. Your first born son is a stunning, strong 17 year old who is proud to carry on the family legacy.
Imagine war breaking out just down the road from where you buried your soulmate. Your young son’s enthusiasm for the war’s cause, coupled with his school lads running off to take up arms to fight for their country, pulls your son’s interest to join up. He fights with you about being a new recruit, as you sternly stand your parental ground. You debate with him. You state that he is too young to fight a man’s battle where the blood shed has no respecter of age. Imagine he shows honor for your wishes, agrees to continue his high school education, along with sharing the household duties. Imagine for the next two years, each time you looked into his eyes, you saw his smile, or the way he visited his mother’s grave, and how he soothed your grieving heart every day by just being there.
Now imagine, one morning your 19 year old son vanishes overnight without a word or a note. Your heart is pierced. Your fears serve up the worst scenarios to the point of being unable to function and unable to eat or sleep. Suddenly, after several weeks, a letter appears in your mailbox. The envelope is marked with your missing son’s handwriting. You can’t help but notice how his phrasing, even his handwriting, reminds you of his mother. As you read through your tears, he explains his disappearance. He details how he had joined the military to fight on the front lines for his country. He goes on to describe how he had resisted the temptation to join up, as long as he could, and is now in the army fighting alongside his schoolmates. He acknowledges how it must hurt you by his abrupt decision, but also making it clear that he is where he needs to be.
Imagine the worry, the fear, the sadness you would go through for the next several months without word of his health or his location. Imagine a few months later, you receive word that this first born son was gravely injured in a major battle and could no longer be of service. Now imagine it’s nearing the Christmas season, with the familiar sound of bombs and the gunfire of war echoing dangerously through the county. The terror of your first born son offering his life each and every day, facing the blasts of the enemy drowns out all Christmas cheer and celebrations.
You can imagine going through such grief, such turmoil and fear, while fighting the clanging sound of Christmas bells all around you, as if everything was truly right in the world with all of its pretend joy, jolly-hollies and Santa’s jinglings.
This is what happened to American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from 1861 to 1863 during the Civil War. In his deep depression, coming out of a writer’s block, dating back to his wife’s violent death, he pens an honest reflection of where his hopes and dreams were last seen. One of the verses written in his poem, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” reads like this:
“And in my 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.
But the bells are ringing, like a choir singing. Does anybody hear them? Peace on earth good will to men….”
After the poem was published some years later, a songwriter put music to it in 1872. Today we sing this song of Christmas blues with gusto. I seem to sing it through tears each time. and even louder when I arrive at the next verse.
“Then rang 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.”
“So why all the bells?” one might ask. It’s because ancient bells were an announcement, an attention-getter. Heralds would ring their bells while shouting, “Here ye, hear ye!” Bells were meant to be loud. The bell’s vibration was to pierce the air with a message to be readied to be received. The bell-ringer assigned to pull the bell-clapper rope had the fervor to bring attention to a message of news. A newsflash of importance or urgency, so urgent it mustn’t be ignored. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, through his familiar immense pain, wrote of the interruption of the bells of GOOD NEWS. The bells speak of evil destined to be crushed by a Savior, a Redeemer, a Rescuer being born to us who live in the bondage of a spiritual war. The bells proved the validity and certainty of an Almighty God Whose death is all about pulling back the curtain on the original fake news of no hope, no future, no God in ultimate control.
Maybe this Christmas will not be your best Christmas. Maybe this Christmas might even be your worst on record. This Christmas is not the best our nation has known. Allow it to come, says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and let it pierce through the wall that seems so solid, so thick, and so unscalable. Because death, sin and the grave has been defeated and utterly destroyed already. Sure, we have the effects of them now, but with that baby from the manger, there is a victory party that has already started that will usher in a nuking of the father of lies in a very short while.
COME ON, RING THOSE BELLS! When you do, hear them proclaim, “There’s fuel for the race.”
“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ The Lord.'” – Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)