At this time of year, there are so many Christmas carols we sing. We know the words by heart. Silent Night, Deck the Halls and Joy to the World.
But there is one carol that is often ignored when carols are sung. I am referring to I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
Written in 1863 by the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was penned during a time when our country was embroiled in a bitter civil war. His heart was heavy for his country. He was worried about his son, an Army lieutenant who was severely wounded in November 1863. He was dealing with the recent loss of his wife Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire.
One day he found himself inspired by nearby church bells and wrote the first verse 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.
As he wrote subsequent verses, you can hear his struggles over his sons injuries and his wifes death. You can hear his frustration as he pens the words of the sixth verse 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!
Where was God?
Similar to Longfellow, we are infuriated with what happened in Newtown, Conn., to those innocent children. We get angry and demand an explanation from God. We need to know Why!
Over the years, I have heard many explanations to help explain the Why. One answer was that God allowed it to happen. I dont accept that answer.
To say God allowed it to happen would make God passive. It makes him impotent. It is as if He quietly stood there while the gunman broke into the school and killed the children, powerless and silent.
I believe God is strong. I dont believe he is powerless. I believe he wept as the gunman fired the shots and took innocent lives.
The shortest verse in the Bible, Jesus wept is one of the most powerful. It is found in John 11. He arrives at the household where his deceased friend Lazarus had lived. It doesnt say he cried; it says, He wept. I see deep sobs coming from him even though in a few verses he would raise Lazarus from the dead. I believe he weeps over the injustices in this world; the pain and abuse we inflict on each other.
It was in the sounds of the bells Longfellow writes the seventh or last verse, 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 the earth, good-will to men.
Our comfort is that God weeps with us over this tragedy. As we begin to move forward, we look to the words in the last line, The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail. We have been charged with ensuring that what happened in Connecticut does not happen again. For only then will there be Peace on earth, good will to men.
The Rev. Anthony Marciano is the executive director of Charlotte Rescue Mission.
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