Peace on Earth. Good Will to Us All!

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We rarely sing one of my favorite Christmas Carols. Its words always cause emotions to well up within me. Although the words of this carol were written in the mid-1800’s, they still speak to the bleakness we face in these days.

It was on Christmas day in 1863, when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow β€” a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself β€” wrote a poem seeking to capture the dissonance in his own heart and in the world he observed around him. He heard the Church bells that December day. He heard the singing of β€œpeace on earth,β€œ but he also despaired of a world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of any sort of peace. Yet Longfellow’s words eventually led to a sense of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair.

Such confident hope will also guide us through our own reality β€” a reality that constantly reminds us that the presence of despair, violence, injustice and intolerance destroys the hope, peace, justice and lovingkindness we so deeply desire for our world.

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!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will 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, good-will to men!

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;
β€œThere is no peace on earth,” I said;
β€œFor hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
β€œGod is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

β€œThen pealed the bells more loud and deep, β€˜God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.””

Amen

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