(Photo by Lindsay O’Neil)
Singing Through the Dark
Inspired by the Carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
By Sarah Komisky
I’ve been thinking a lot. I guess I can’t help it. Shootings. Racism. Terrorism. Violence. Protests. Chaos. It’s the backdrop this Christmas in a season we call “The most wonderful time of the year.” Yet our reality hits, cold as snow: the reality of a world not as it should be.
Many Christmas carols have captured the anguish of this pain and the paradox we live in. “Better Days” by The Goo Goo Dolls, “Grown Up Christmas List” (sung by artists like Kelly Clarkson and Amy Grant), “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, “Someday at Christmas” by Stevie Wonder, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” all describe the longing for peace in a broken world. Then there is the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It is my favorite out of the bunch. Here’s why.
Written in a time when America was facing civil war, the famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Christmas Bells” in 1863. The poem was written and later adapted as a song, and for good reasons! Longfellow was a man who faced immense tragedy in his personal life and in the world around him. Living in a war torn world, Longfellow experienced loss when his beloved wife Fanny was killed in an accidental fire and he survived with severe burns. That Christmas he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year later, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” His journal entry in December 1862 reads, “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”
One year later Longfellow received word that his son Charles enlisted as a solider and was severely wounded in battle. That Christmas, he did not write until December 25th, 1864 when he began penning his famous holiday carol. In his poem, Longfellow laments as he hears the holiday bells ringing saying, “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!’”
Yet in his sorrow, the most powerful words come forth exclaiming, “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.’”
Overall, the song speaks for itself. It’s undeniable. How could a man who was in so much pain and facing so much adversity have any hope when the circumstances around him were so dark? Answer: Jesus Christ. Jesus, the sinless, holy deity voluntarily came to earth, born in this broken world in order to one day redeem it. But not only that, he came to save humanity who is broken! He came to forgive us and offer the hope of salvation found in him alone. And, he came to offer the promise of eternity and the promise that one day he will create a new earth where peace will finally be established forever. What an incredible truth! It’s what got Longfellow through the darkest days and dreariest nights. And it’s the gift Jesus gives to us this Christmas.
So like you, my heart is moved and sad when I look at the events happening in our world today. But like Longfellow, I can say there is hope. More than just a carol, this song is an anthem for all of us facing pain during the holiday season. May you receive Jesus as Savior this Christmas and may you place your hope in Him. Jesus is the reason for the season and because of him we can have joy in the midst of sorrow knowing our Savior has overcome. So like Longfellow, you can sing through the darkness knowing the wrong will one day fail and the right prevail with peace on earth and goodwill to men.