Wednesday, December 21, 2016

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”


“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

If you are like me, there are times the “Your Memories on Facebook” feature brings to mind thoughts, both good and bad from the pages of the history book of your life. Today was one of those days for me. The video memory that was on my Facebook page as I logged on today was from Dec. 19th, 2012. Just a few days earlier Adam Lanza made his way in to Sandy Hook Elementary School and brutally gunned down 20 first grade students as well as others.  As Pastor Derrick reminds us in the video, the song our youth choir performed that morning was taken from a poem written by Henry Longfellow on Christmas day 1863. Our country was in the midst of the bloody Civil War. That in and of itself was bad enough, but for Henry Longfellow, that was just the start. His oldest son had been severely injured less than a month earlier in that same Civil War and his wife of 18 years had died tragically 2 years earlier in a fire. Those were dark days for Henry Longfellow and the Christmas bells, meant to encourage-to bring hope, had had the opposite effect.

For the vast majority of us, Christmas is a time of great hope, where the bells do bring encouragement. It is a season of joy as we give and receive gifts, and remember the greatest gift ever given, a Savior, whose gift did not end in a manger, but on a bloody cross on the hill Golgotha. But for many, this Christmas….well this Christmas will not be one of joy. It will be one of deep sadness. One of my friends and his wife recently buried their son, a son who took his own life. Very possibly there are already Christmas presents under the tree with his name on them. The shoes that Henry Longfellow wore on Christmas day in 1863, are now tightly laced up on their feet and there is no removing them. They must now walk a dark and painful path and live the words of the poem;

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!

One of my co-workers will experience his 1st Christmas without his father. Uncomfortable shoes are on his feet as well.

Then from each black, accurs-ed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Another friend his 2nd without his wife of many decades, onward he treads deaths dark path.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

As my mind dwells on what is now a loved Christmas carol and as I think through the reality that pain and suffering are an inevitable part of life, I am reminded that the shoes of tragedy are not a permanent piece of the believer’s apparel. The Apostle Peter, you know Peter…..the one who denied not once….not twice, but three times that he knew Jesus, wrote after you have suffered a little while, THE God of all grace(Emphasis mine), who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10). King David, who some historians believe was being threatened at that very moment by a conspiracy to take his throne, a conspiracy led by his own son wrote; Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22). Henry Longfellow himself steps out of the dark and painful path and goes on to finish his Christmas poem in the following way;

“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.’”

As I write these words, my eyes move up just a few inches from the computer monitor and are drawn to a verse on a mug, a verse that Pam and I have held on to tightly over the years, especially those times that we have laced up the shoes of tragedy and proceeded down a dark and painful path. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11). Life has taught us the reality of those words. That even in the midst of life’s darkest moments, God is still in control, that He has a plan, and His plan is good. The word Jeremiah uses for “prosper” in this verse is the Hebrew word “shalom”. It means peace, quiet, tranquility, contentment. Please note, this does not mean a life free from trouble! But it does mean that during those times of trouble, as a believer, you are never alone. Those shoes you wear, He wears too! That dark path you walk, He walks too!
So take heart my friend;

“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.’”

Jim

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