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Summary: Christmas is a glorious time when experiencing the blessings of God and all is well, but, what about those who are suffering the loss of a loved one or a broken relationship or a prolonged illness. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow explores this in his poem.

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Video of Church Bells Ringing

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

I thought how as the day had come

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along the unbroken song

Of peace on earth goodwill to men

Till ringing singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day

A voice a chime a chant sublime

Of peace on earth goodwill to men

This is a restatement of the message given to shepherds by an angel:

In Luke 2:8-14 it says,

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”

We love to celebrate Christmas, don’t we?

It is a time of ringing the bells of great cathedrals

It is a time of gathering in small churches with fellow believers

It is a time of gathering with family and friends

It is a time of giving and receiving gifts

It can also be a time of despair

It can be a time of loneliness

It can be a time of jealousy and anger over the unfairness of life

It can be a time when the pain of sickness is amplified

It can be a time when the pain of loss is overwhelming

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow found himself in just such a state of despair on Christmas day in 1863. It was during the American Civil War. His wife had died in 1861 from an accidental fire. She had been using sealing wax and some dripped on her dress. Longfellow tried to put out the fire and was badly burned. His wife died the next day. His son had joined the Union army without his permission and was severely wounded. The war was claiming many lives. It seemed to Longfellow that the spirit of Christmas had been crushed.

In the midst of all of this he wrote the poem “Christmas Bells”. It has been set to music and is known to us as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. However, two verses have been removed from the poem in the hymn. They explain to us very well the mood of that Christmas Day in 1863.

(Verses removed form the poem when it was made into a hymn.)

Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound the carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

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!

And in despair I bowed my head;

"There is no peace on earth," I said;

"For hate is strong, and mocks the song


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