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“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14 (NIV)

“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!

The familiar Christmas Carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” came from a poem penned on December 25, 1864, by Henry Lonfellow amidst one of the worst periods in United States history, the Civil War. His inspiration came as he heard the bells ringing in a nearby church.

Later, Longfellow pens two stanzas of the poem that hymn writers chose to exclude when the poem was put to the familiar tune we know it as.

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!

One can’t blame the poet for the injection of these mournful words. In the previous year he’d lost his dearly loved wife in a fire, and his son became a victim of war.

Peace on earth?


Goodwill towards men?

The Civil War made enemies out of brothers.

Still, Longfellow ends his poem with:

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!”

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!”

‘Peace on Earth; Goodwill towards men’ still eludes us. The news is full of horrific tales of violence mankind pits against one another. Only the most horrific acts gain media attention. Behind the scenes of mass murder and natural disasters are family members abusing one another; accidents claiming the lives of young fathers and mothers and children; disease taking lives of people all too soon.

So where is the peace that Longfellow fell back on as he closed his poem that dark Christmas Day? Where is the peace the Angels sang of on that dark hillside outside Jerusalem?

Like the Angels, Longfellow knew what we must never forget. ‘Peace on earth; Goodwill towards men’ will never be dictated by a politicians mandate, a hefty retirement account, a fulfilled relationship or healthy eating/exercise regimen. Peace and goodwill always has been, and always will be a state of mind that transcends the tragedies of life, and based on faith in Jesus Christ.

God’s favor, his peace rests on those who rest in him. Tragedies will come. Horrific acts of violence will happen. Innocent lives will be taken far too soon. But right will prevail. Jesus has promised us that he will be with us always, even in the midst of the storm.

The Angel song of honor reminds us that God’s kingdom of peace has a present reality to those who follow Jesus, and a future hope when he returns for his own.

PRAYER: Father, I pray for those who are struggling with a variety of hurt and anguish today. Evil seems to have engulfed us of late. Help us, even in the midst of tragedy to feel your peace here on earth. Amen.

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December 2012
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