The modern-day version of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Casting Crowns, which is based on the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of the same name, is one of my favorite Christmas songs. There’s just something about the song and its words of hope that literally resonate within my heart and bring to mind a special moment for me.
Nine years ago, I was sitting by a café in a lovely plaza near the beautiful Theatine Church (Theatinerkirche) in Munich, Germany, and the church bells were ringing out loud, clear and pure.
I had heard bells on and off throughout my time in Europe: unexpected bells resounding at a monastery in a quaint village, then a long, gorgeous performance from the bells of Salzburger Dom (Cathedral) in Salzburg, Austria, while I was perched high on the Salzburg Castle walls overlooking the city dotted with sparkling lights at twilight.
This time in Munich though I sat listening, really listening to them…as carefully now as I listen to the words of this song.
I heard the bells on Christmas day / Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat / 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
But the bells are ringing / Like a choir singing
Does anybody hear them? / Peace on earth, good will to men.
Then rang 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
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…
Do you hear the bells they’re ringing? / The life the angels singing
Open up your heart and hear them / Peace on earth, good will to men…”
The famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, penned the words over 150 years ago, and they resonate with me as they must have through him then. It was December 25, 1864, and the American Civil War still raged on and would continue for over three months more.
Our country was torn apart with little hope of repair and Longfellow’s grief over the war extended to the loss of his beloved wife, Fanny, in 1861 at the war’s start.
The first Christmas after her death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the accident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” He then received news that his oldest son, Charles, had been severely wounded as a lieutenant in the Union army, therefore he wrote nothing for Christmas 1863.
But in 1864, he wrote these famous words…words of deep sorrow, but also of hope. Hope that there would be better days in the future and that “wrong shall fail, the right prevail” and of God being in his midst even through tragedy and unrest in a war-torn world. “God is not dead; nor doth He sleep” and that there truly is hope for “peace on earth, good will to men.”
As I remembered the bells I heard and I thought about the words of this poem, the bells to me became symbolic of God’s presence with us on Earth. In Europe, the bells resound all the time, and few stop to listen, yet they still ring. So is it with God. For we tend to take His presence in our lives for granted, and I for one am guilty, but He’s there trying to get our attention, to reverberate through our hearts and minds like the pure and clear sound of the bells.
As with Longfellow’s great tragedy and uncertain chaos that surrounded him, the bells were symbols of peace and hope that God will prevail, and we shall find peace even if our world is falling apart.
The heart of the Christmas season is peace, hope, and remembrance of God’s love. Love for us that was great enough that He sent Jesus Christ to offer salvation to a world in chaos. He is the bell resounding through the night that beckons, calling us to peace.
Of all years, I think we can agree that 2020 is one that is in much need of more peace on earth and goodwill to men. So, perhaps, when you hear church bells ring or feel a moment of despair stop and think, pray, open up your heart and truly hear the message of peace and goodwill to all.
Let that be on foremost on your mind and await how God would have you become a part of his plan to bring it forth to all.
I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and above all blessings upon you and your family.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon 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 shall be no end. He will reign upon the throne of David and over His Kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from henceforth and forever…” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
“Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)