(Note: Published this a year ago but after hearing City Church perform this song on Sunday I had to re-publish.)
The story is told of a young man named Charles, who, filled with patriotism and a sense of honor, went off and joined the war effort—without his father’s blessing. A short time after Charles enlisted, the father received a letter from his son which read in part: “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer,” he wrote. “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good.”
The father’s son performed mightily on the battlefield and was soon promoted as an officer. But only eight months following his initial letter home, Charles was killed in action. From the grief the father received at the news of his loss, coupled with the death of his own wife Frances, he penned a poem that yearned for an end to war and a deep desire for peace on earth. The father was American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (see picture) and his poem was entitled: Christmas Bells. Over the years his poem has been put to music, most famously in the traditional carol: I heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Both in the song and poem, you hear the grief of a father raging against the senselessness of man destroying man through war:
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.
Who amongst us hasn’t felt that kind of despair—especially during a time of grievous loss. But Longfellow doesn’t end with despair. This father rages against the injustice but he rages into the bosom of God! Only someone who believes in the reality of Christmas, God coming down in flesh to make right the wrong and turn everything sad untrue would end his poem on this note of hope:
Then the bells rang 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. Then ringing singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day. A voice, a chime, a chant sublime Of peace on earth, good will to men
This Advent season let us be reminded as we journey through the reality of ‘the already’ and ‘the not yet’ that Christ coming was but a down payment of what will one day be completed in totality and may we truly experience Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men! Enjoy the clip of Casting Crowns singing: I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.