Two days ago, I discovered the back story to the Christmas carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". I wanted to share with you what I learned because I believe this may help us during this tragic time. You see the writer of the poem " Christmas Bells" experienced great tragedy as well. The poem was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Fanny Longfellow was fatally burned in an accident in the library of Craigie House on July 10th. After trimming some of seven year old Edith's beautiful curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress. The longed for sea breeze blew in through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny's dress-- immediately wrapping her in flames. In her attempt to protect Edith and Allegra, she ran to Henry's study in the next room, where Henry frantically attempted to extinguish the flames with a throw rug. Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances-- severely burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral.
The first Christmas after Fanny's death, Longfellow wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." A year after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace." Longfellow's journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: "'A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me." Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes. He did not die from his wounds. Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, "Christmas Bells."
Longfellow's Christmas bells loudly proclaimed, "God is not dead." Even more, the bells announced, "Nor doth He sleep." God's Truth, Power, and Justice are affirmed, when Longfellow wrote: "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail." The message that the Living God is a God of Peace is proclaimed in the close of the carol: "Of peace on Earth, good will to men."
During this time of grief in our country, we can learn a lesson from people like Longfellow who wrestled with questions. He possibly even wrestled with God and God gave him the assurance that He was not dead!
I love the lines:
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."
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."
What the killer did was an act of hate. Hate is a strong emotion. The gun shots rang out and cut through the peaceful, idyllic community. But we know that God IS peace, and God will give us His peace. Yes, hate is strong, but God and His love is stronger! Never stop believing that!
The Bible says, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men." Luke 2:14
Shhhh, can you hear it? I believe I can hear a bell ringing. Though faintly, it is still ringing for everyone. Listen; the message is still for today. Quiet your hearts and listen. The message is...Jesus. He will have the final say over death and the grave. He is saying: I am the peace you are so desperately longing for. Take the gift that I am offering today. It is not wrapped up in a shiny beautiful package. It is wrapped in swaddling clothes. It was beaten and bruised on a tree, not a glittery, shining tree with lights, but a rugged one. Take this gift of myself... I am the peace that you long for.
Yes, I can hear a bell....this bell tolls... it tolls for thee.
Lyrics to " I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"