Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

On December 25, 1864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat down and penned the words to one of my favorite Christmas hymns, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. History reminds us that on this date the Civil War had been raging for over three and one half years. As he wrote, he was not blind to the carnage the nation had suffered as brothers fought against brothers. His frustration can be seen in the third verse: “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 goodwill toward men’”

Sadly, one-hundred and fifty years later, there is still is malice and hatred in the world; wars still continue to rage between nations; brothers and sisters continue to battle one another, if not with weapons of war with unkind words and deeds; and there seems to be little hope for genuine peace anywhere on the horizon. If we do not look beyond the now to God’s promises for the future, verse three would be the ending of our song and we would face a future of despair.

After expressing the doubts that world events can invoke, he gave further thought and penned verse four:“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.’”

Apparently, in his despair, Longfellow recognized that God’s ultimate plans would not be thwarted by the actions of men. In due time wrong will fail and right will prevail and there will be genuine peace on earth. The prophesy of Isaiah 2:4 will become a reality: “And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.”

The skeptic reads these words and thinks they are naive. What the skeptic does not take into account is the fact that God does not operate on a time schedule. To Him, a day is the same as a thousand years. God sits in a high position where He sees the entire canopy of history. He sees the beginning and the end and He declares through His prophet that the day is coming when “Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.” By trusting in His sovereign rule, we can always have hope. We can know that our hope is not wishful thinking but it is recognition of a future reality that has not yet been finalized.

The good news does not end here. While we look with longing to the future time of peace, we also have the promise of an inward peace that will enable us to deal with the hardships and futility that sometimes seems to control the world. We have the words of our Lord, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27 NASB). My prayer is that each one of us might experience the wonder of His peace during this season of the year when we celebrate His coming to this earth and that each one of us will loudly proclaim that He is not dead, nor does He sleep. He lives; He rules; and He will in His own time bring everything to a close according to His perfect will.

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