In a blog, Pastor Greg Laurie comments on the song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” from the poem “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The American poet was at the peak of his success when he wrote those now familiar words. Abraham Lincoln had just been elected to the presidency, and there was a great sense of hope in the nation.
But things turned dark for America and for Longfellow personally. The Civil War broke out, and Longfellow’s wife died in a tragic fire. Longfellow had been so severely burned himself when he tried to save her that he was unable to attend her funeral. In a journal entry on his first Christmas without her, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”
The next year he wrote in his diary, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”
In 1863, Longfellow’s son joined the Union army and was severely wounded, returning home in December. There was no entry in Longfellow’s diary that Christmas. But on Christmas Day, wanting to pull out of his despair, Longfellow decided to express his feelings with a poem. He wrote,
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
the words repeat
of peace on earth, goodwill to men.
No doubt thinking about his country, his wife who had died, and his badly injured son, he continued:
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!”
But then, gaining and eternal perspective, Longfellow penned this conclusion:
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, goodwill to men.”
Even today, I think Longfellow speaks for many. The holidays are a sad time for a lot of people, especially those who have lost loved ones, are in pain, or have a broken family. And the poet’s words certainly apply to our world today: “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men!”
Luke’s gospel gives us these words from the angels to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14 NKJV). The Amplified version renders it this way: “Glory to God in the highest (heaven), and on earth peace among men with whom He is well-pleased.” (AMP)
That is the key; there is peace on earth when we are living lives pleasing to God.