The great 19th century American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote the poem "Christmas Bells" on Christmas day of 1864 in the midst of the American Civil War and in response to the news that his son Charles had been seriously wounded in battle. Amidst his despair, which he recorded in his personal journal, is found the poem which testifies to a sense of hope found in the celebration of Christmas.
Longfellow sensed that hope come alive as the bells of Christmas pealed and reminded him that God is not dead. For the poet, and for all of us, the hope of Christmas is that right shall always prevail, that the Prince of Peace will bring peace, and the God-made-Man will bring goodwill to all the earth.
As Longfellow wrote: “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.”
Like Longfellow we too mark still another twenty-fifth of December scarred by the sorrow of warfare and violence. News reports of injury and the death of young soldiers have become routine, yet they stand in stark contrast to the festivities held in celebration of Christmas. While the world rejoices at the birth of the Prince of Peace our men and women in the military are still engaged in combat in Iraq and continue to keep an anxious watch in Afghanistan.
For soldiers’ families the holidays are a time of great doubt and anxiety as they celebrate Christmas in the gnawing absence of a loved one, and ongoing concern for their safety. For others it is a time of deep sadness as they mourn the death of their beloved, fallen in the war. But St. Paul reminds us: “We grieve, but not as those who have no hope.” At Christmastime we turn to the manger where God took on human nature in all its suffering and joy. The babe of Bethlehem spurs us on in faith to embrace the comfort of Christmas offered as light in our dark world.
For four weeks of Advent the world has been preparing for the celebration of Christmas, calling out , “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”? The name that reminds us that we desperately need God to be with us, bringing glad tidings of comfort and joy to a world in desperate need of both. As we kneel in adoration before the Christ Child, let us join with Longfellow and listen to the bells play the familiar, beloved carols. May Christmas 2007 truly bring us a renewed effort for peace on earth and good will to all of God’s children.