The Bells Still Ring

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Many of us are familiar with the Christmas carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. However, many of us are not aware that some of the verses to the poem were excised from the song that we now sing. Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day during the Civil War between the states. He had lost his wife and his son had been badly wounded in the war between brothers. The poem expresses his feelings about that time.

CHRISTMAS BELLS
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863)

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;
"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!
"

We like the sanitized version of the song. But the truth is, the original more faithfully expresses the reality of the world we live in. It also more faithfully expresses the reality of the world into which Christ was born.

The Jews were a subjugated people, writhing under the heavy hand of Rome. Among themselves there were political factions at war, religious factions clawing at each other, greed, abuse and injustice of all kinds. Minorities were despised. Slavery was rampant. Women were considered chattels.

And into this world came its Saviour.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned...For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this" (Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7).

Hate is strong. To sanitize the truth is to seek to erase an important part of the wonder of the Christmas story. Christ came to bring peace between us and God. He also came to bring peace between brothers. And one day, "of that kingdom" there will certainly be no end. Our God will prevail.

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