Summary: Peace, I believe, is something that we all want, something that we all need in our lives. And I also believe that God wants us to be AT peace as well.
December 6, 2009 – PEACE at Christmastime
One of America’s greatest poets was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The year 1860 found Longfellow happy in his life, enjoying a widening recognition, and elated over the election of Abraham Lincoln which he believed signalled the triumph of freedom and redemption for the nation. The following year the Civil War began.
On July 9, 1861 Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, was near an open window sealing locks of her daughter’s hair, using hot sealing wax. Suddenly her dress caught fire and engulfed her with flames. Henry, sleeping in the next room, was awakened by her screams. As he desperately tried to put out the fire and save his wife, he was severely burned on his face and hands.
Fanny died the next day. Longfellow’s severe burns would not even allow him to attend Fanny’s funeral. His white beard, which is so identified with him, was one of the results of the tragedy – the burn scars on his face made shaving almost impossible. In his diary for Christmas day 1861 he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.”
In 1862 the toll of war dead began to mount and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote of Christmas, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”
In 1863 his son, who had run away to join the Union army, was severely wounded and returned home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.
But on Christmas Day 1864 – at age 57 – Longfellow sat down to try to capture, if possible, the joy of the season. He began:
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.
As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, good will to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?” But he kept writing – and what did he write?
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.
It seems as if he could have been writing about today. We hear in the news, from near and far, of wars, fights, natural disasters, families breaking apart, marriages failing, finances crumbling, it goes on and on and on.
Then, as all of us should do, Longfellow turned his thoughts to the One who gives true and perfect peace, and continued writing:
Then peeled 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.”
And so there came into being the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
Christmas time these days seems far from a peaceful time of year. As soon as you turn on the radio or the television in December, all we hear are noisy ads compelling us to go into debt just so we can give expensive gifts to everyone we know. They also tell us that we’re SAVING money as we shop at their store. So we go the malls and hear the peaceful cry of whining and screaming children (and parents) as they wander seemingly aimlessly through the hallways and into the stores with their credit card out and ready to see if it will pass the swipe test. Well the way I see it is that when you buy something, no matter what the price is, you are still spending money. You’re not saving anything. You save money when you put it away and don’t spend it. If we all saved money at Christmas time, we wouldn’t spend a thing! Is that what the good folks who work in retail want us to do?