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Fourth Sunday of Advent: Peace

One of the most familiar hymns of the Christmas season is, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Christmas Bells.” Longfellow’s poem was written Christmas Day, 1864 while the War Between the States was winding down, and after Longfellow suffered terrible personal loss. In 1861, Longfellow’s beloved wife Fanny was attempting to preserve a lock of their daughter’ hair by encasing it in melted wax. Unbeknown to her, some of the hot wax fell onto the back of her dress, setting it afire. After realizing her dress was burning and fearing her children would be harmed by the fire, she ran to her husband’s office, where he attempted to extinguish the flames with a rug then finally with his own body. Despite his efforts to put out the fire, which also burned him severely, Fanny died the next morning. Longfellow’s memories of the fire would linger with him in his mind, and in his body, as his face was burned so severely, he could no longer shave. The iconic beard we associate with Longfellow was a constant reminder of the loss of his beloved wife. The site, tells us, “The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, ‘How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.’ A year after the incident, he wrote, ‘I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.’ Longfellow’s journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: ‘A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.’ Then, in 1863, Longfellow received news his son Charlie had been seriously wounded in the battle of Mine Run. Longfellow’s son had joined the war without his father’s leave, which had burdened him tremendously. Longfellow was not at peace. This is made clear in the two stanzas which were left out when his poem, “Christmas Bells,” was translated to 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! Still, the angel’s message was “peace on earth, good will toward men,” for that is the DESIRE of God. However, man’s desires are often not God’s, so the peace He offers is forsaken for war, for hatred, for envy and for whatever else fits man’s wants for the moment. Until man desires the peace of God, individual men will never find peace. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a devout Christian. Even though he had experienced an upheaval in life, he knew the wonderful peace that comes to each and every individual who forsakes their sin and turns in faith to Jesus Christ. It is a peace that passes all understanding. A peace that calms our storms, erases our fears and no matter the state we are in, helps us be content. That is the peace Longfellow speaks of as his poem concludes

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.”

The wrong SHALL fail. The right SHALL prevail, and when Christ returns again there truly will be peace on earth and ALL men will finally understand the good will God offered when He gave His Only Begotten Son, the babe in a manger who would grow to die on the cross of Calvary for the sin of men.

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