Summary: One of the great Christmas carols (and messages of Peace) comes from a man in deep pain and depression... Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


The year was 1861. That evening a mother “was sealing locks of her daughter’s hair in a packet, using hot sealing wax.”

This was one of those weird female ceremonies that they endure for the sake of “style.” I remember my sisters going through the stinking process of a “perm.” Tracy and Debbie Cox, while in high school, used to get up extra early so that they could take turns “ironing” each other’s hair… to take the curl out. I’ve seen pictures of Delores when her hair was about two feet high on her head, obviously using tons of hair spray. I knew a girl who was going to bleach her hair blonde and wound up with orange hair.

I am so glad that men… especially those real men like myself, would never resort to such ridiculous “hair-doos.”

Well, back to the story… this mother was sealing her daughters hair with sealing wax when there was some sort of accident. “Suddenly, her dress ignited and she was engulfed with fire.” Her husband heard her scream and came running in from an adjoining room. “He tried desperately to put out the fire and save his wife.” In the attempt, he also received many serious burns to his face and hands. He would recover. But, alas, his wife’s burns were fatal. The next day she slipped into a coma and died.

For three years, the man carried on at his trade…. But his family could see the terrible effect of the grief that he had locked in his mind and soul. He grew a beard, mostly because the scars made shaving almost impossible. He ceased to care for his appearance and let his hair grow long.

He was the greatest American poet, a legend in his own time… but Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew no joy in life.

Three years later, at the age of 57, Longfellow was sitting at his desk, trying to capture the joy of the season… the joy he saw in others.

These are the words 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, good will to men.

Christmas can be a sad and lonely time for many people.

Those who are depressed… when all the world is gay and jolly

Those who are lonely…….. when the rest of the world is having family time

Those who are mourning….. when it seems that everyone else is celebrating

Those who are poor…….. when giving presents is the order of the day

Longfellow was one of those people…. Mourning, still mourning after three years.

There he sat in his office, missing his loved one, when he heard the carolers in the street. He heard the bells from the local church peeling out one of the favorite Christmas favorites.

The first verse of the song tells us that he heard them. He did not sing with them. He did not feel cheered by them. But he heard them.

In the second verse you can hear his response.

I thought how, as the day had come

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled a long thunder-broken song

Of peace on earth good will to men.

He reflected how all over the world, bells like those he was hearing, were singing out the same glorious song…. Peace on earth…. Good will to men.

But he had no peace, he felt no good will from God toward him.

The bells were a lie and the carols were a mockery of his tragic situation.

Then his thoughts took on a larger scale, he began to reflect on the situation in his world. The year was 1864. The country was living through it’s darkest day. Mourning, pain, destruction and meaningless death was all around them. In the words of their President…. They were “engaged in a great civil war, testing whether this nation, or any nation….. could long endure” such a terrible fate.

Where was joy? It was nation against nation, state against state, brother against brother, father against son. At Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Shiloh and Fredericksburg the ground was covered in blood. Young lives were wasted to gain a single inch that would be lost again within the hour. The hatred and venom spewed from both sides. There was no peace on earth…. No good will towards anyone on the other side.

With that in mind, Longfellow penned 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, good will toward men.”

Who knows how long he allowed himself to wallow in his own self-pity. Maybe it was days…. maybe only hours.

What would you guess is the hardest thing about training a seeing-eye dog? They are very smart dogs. Maybe it would be training them to come, or sit, or heal, or stop at a curb. Well the truth is, the hardest thing to train them to do is… LOOK UP! Dogs usually keep their eyes focused about 18 inches above the ground. They rarely look up unless they hear something.

**** Many dear hunters know deer are the same way. That is why so many use tree stands…. Deer hardly ever look up.

Well, the average blind person is about five to six feet tall. Thus, the dog has to be taught to look up and look out for things that could hurt the blind person. I a dog can not be trained to look up he will not qualify as a seeing-eye dog. If he can be trained, the blind person will be blessed.

And so it is with Christmas. Like the blind person… we get in trouble if the focus is downward. We get in trouble because we focus at an earthly level. We focus on the pain, the loneliness, the troubles.

As long as we do we will be depressed, lonely, sad, have no peace and feel no good will to men.

Longfellow lived that way, with his focus down, for three years following his wife’s death. He still felt that as he heard the carolers and the bells.

But like that seeing eye dog, he found success when he looked up. When he turned his eyes on Jesus, on God the gracious Father who loved him so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son…. When he lifted up his focus….. he found peace, and good will.

Listen to the last verse, which should come before verse 4.

Till, ringing, singing on its way;

The world revolved from night to day

A voce, a chime, a chant sublime,

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Did you hear that?????


Not the whole world, unfortunately.

Much of the world still lives in darkness and coldness or bitterness, hatred, sorrow, guilt, pain, mourning, and depression.

Sadly, many have never learned to LOOK UP, to look to God, to have faith, to praise him.

But Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s life turned from the night of mourning and anger, and blaming God, and self-pity.

It turned to the light of praise, or faith, or thanks to God.


*** I do not make light of clinical depression, which may take medication and therapy to overcome. I am not making light of mourning for loved ones, of loneliness. I don’t want to make it seem like they are unchristian or minor.

But I do want you to know that as hard as they are to overcome. There is hope! The best way to overcome them is by LOOKING UP!!!

Look up, praise God, Praise his majesty, his holiness, his greatness, his grace, his love, his mercy.

Then look at what happened when Longfellow had looked up, had seen the hope, had found the joy.

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 toward men.

The bells sounded louder, sharper, more beautiful.

What he could not hear, when his focus was earthward….. he could now hear, as though for the first time.

And a thought of joy came to his mind…. A thought that released his mind from the dungeon of despair.

That thought was this…. GOD IS ONT DEAD, NOR DOTH HE SLEEP

Do you see what he has been thinking?

He heard the carols of God’s love….. but he felt no love…. To him God must be dead…..or asleep.

Either God COULD NOT (dead) or WOULD NOT (asleep) help him, hear his prayers.

But now, when he looked up, when he saw God….. night turned to day, sorrow turned to joy, God was alive and awake…..





Someone has made famous the expression, “The long night of the soul.”

Longfellow’s night lasted for three years.

I’m not going to tell you that your night will end today…. That your night will turn to day in just a few minutes.


Today can be the day when you change your focus

From the problem…… to the answer

Today can be the first step.

Today you can come forward and I will pray with you about your night, your sorrow, your problem.

I will continue to pray for you after today.

This church can join you in prayer.

I want you to know there can be Peace on Earth…..

More importantly…. There can be peace in your life.

I encourage you, today, this day……. To LOOK UP, YOUR REDEMPTION DRAWETH NIGH.”