Bells are a traditional element in our Christmas celebrations. Church bells ring to announce the birth of the child Jesus; we have familiar carols like Carol of the Bells and Silver Bells. Watching the annual Christmas musical presentation of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir last evening brought to mind another carol concerning bells that was highlighted during their performance.
In the midst of the Civil War, the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a poem about Christmas bells. He had suffered a number of losses during those early years of the war including the tragic death of his beloved wife, Fannie, who died in a house fire, and then the wounding of his son who had gone off from home to join the federal troops. Longfellow was suffering a great deal of despair and hopelessness as he witnessed a nation being torn apart along with his own personal griefs.
Two of the stanzas of his poem that was later set to music read like this:
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!
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!"
Does that not resonate with us today? We look around our world and find war and violence, hatred of one group for another because of religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or whatever. Do we bow our heads in despair and feel that the song of peace on earth has been mocked? At times I think we all do.
Yet today we commemorate the birth of the Prince of Peace; a child - divine and human - who came among us to show us the kind of love the Father has for us and told us to emulate that love toward others. Yet even the most religious and holy among us know that emulating that love is not always easy.
What are we to do? Are we to continue to bow our heads in despair or do we make the effort - however small it may be - to bring peace to our world in our own - even limited - sphere of influence? That is the challenge of Christmas; to have the Prince of Peace come alive again in our hearts and to bring his love to all those we know and meet. If we make the effort we can then sing the final stanza of Longfellow's poem:
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."
May the peace and good will that Jesus brought to us all be with you and your families this Christmas and throughout the coming New Year.