Christmas is almost here! Like many, you may have an idealized picture of the perfect Christmas. Perhaps you envision a Christmas similar to a romantic and tranquil Currier & Ives Christmas scene that depicts fallen snow on rolling hills, horse drawn sleighs, and restful trees. Unfortunately, this calm and peaceful ideal of Christmas is often far from the reality. The Christmas season is usually anything but peaceful. In fact, during this time of year there is actually an increase in anxiety, loneliness, chaos, and emotional pain.

During the Christmas of 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reflected on his life and all that was happening around him. The nation was in the midst of a Civil War. He was caring for his oldest son who had been seriously wounded in the fighting. Two years prior he had lost his wife in a tragic and horrific accident. His heart was heavy with grief as he heard the Christmas bells ringing and the singing of “peace on earth” outside his home. How could anyone celebrate peace on earth in a world so full of violence and injustice?  Longfellow’s deep reflection into his own brokenness, the tragedies of his life, and the harsh reality of war bore a poem that would become a much loved Christmas carol.

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!

When one considers the idea of peace in the world today, it seems like an unimaginable dream. Everywhere you look we see chaos and conflict. How can peace on earth be possible? This question is what Longfellow also wrestled with:

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

The repeated refrain in Longfellow’s poem “Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” is a direct quote of what the angels spoke to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born (Luke 2:14). Longfellow understood that the angel’s proclamation was not about peace in the way that we typically think of peace, as the absence of conflict. Instead, the angel’s proclamation had to do with the fact that once Jesus accomplished what he came to do, it would be possible for mankind to experience the peace of God. An inner peace, a calm assurance, that exists despite external circumstances or even emotional turmoil. 

Longfellow recognized that true peace originates with God and that it is a peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). 

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.”

My prayer and hope is that we will all experience that peace, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. Have a blessed Christmas!

Written by Sam McKeen

Categories: Church Blog