By Paul Bawden
I’m sure if we celebrate Christmas, we remember the words of the angels to the shepherds that first Christmas Eve.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Or “among men with whom He is well pleased.”
As we look at the indescribable happenings in the Middle East and the antisemitic uprisings in the USA, along with other divisions, the word, peace, seems far from a reality. One can only ask, “Is peace a possibility?”
These words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were brought to mind through a Christmas Choir Concert my wife and I attended recently, when the choir sang, “I heard the bells on Christmas day,” words which were from Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells” written in 1863.
Two years before writing this poem, Longfellow had his own peace shaken when his second wife of 18 years was fatally burned in an accidental fire. In 1863, during the American Civil War, his oldest son, who had joined the Union Army, without his father’s blessing, was severely wounded in the Battle of Mine Run. He later recovered but could no longer serve as a soldier.
Against this backdrop, Longfellow hears the Christmas bells during the American Civil War, and senses that all is not right for hate prevails and mocks the song of peace, and any word of peace is drowned out by the cannon sound. In spite of this seeming dreadful and discouraging situation, Longfellow arrives at a hopeful conclusion.
Here are some words from “Christmas Bells.”
I heard the bells on Christmas Day. Their old, familiar carols play, and mild and sweet the words repeat, of peace on earth, good-will to men! Then from each black, accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the South, and with the sound, the carols drowned, of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent the hearth-stones of a continent, and made forlorn, the households born 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!”
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.”
What a life-changing conclusion, Longfellow arrived at! He realized in the midst of war, only the biblical God could bring peace to the earth. I’m not sure of Longfellow’s faith walk, but he did understand that only the biblical God can bring peace to this world.
How does that happen? Obviously, not through man. Look what he has done to the world through his limited intelligence. That’s why Christ said my peace I give you not as the world gives you (John 14:27). What’s Christ’s peace? Vertically, forgiveness and eternal life with God for the believer in Him. Peace horizontally with others – forgiving and accepting one another, harmony in relationships. Peace in the world, when Christ returns and puts down all rebellion and evil.
Without Christ, only hate prevails. With Christ, peace individually, in relationships, and in our world can happen. As a believer in Christ, live out His peace in your personal life and with others. Thank the Lord for His peace, as you meet with family this Christmas. Have a wonderful Christmas celebrating our Lord’s birth!
Paul Bawden is married and served in the full-time pastoral ministry for 45 years, retiring in 2011, after which he and his wife served in four interims, three in Wisconsin and one in Iowa. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in Speech and attended Dallas Theological Seminary, receiving a Master of Theology. He has taken counseling courses at Trinity Evangelical Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois. Paul is a lifetime member of the Evangelical Free Church of America, as well as being a member of Interim Pastor Ministries (IPM), which serves churches during their time of transition in searching for a new pastor. He is also a volunteer writer for GotQuestions.org. Paul likes to write, read, and work in the yard. The Bawdens have had the privilege to travel to Mexico and Romania on mission trips and visited various countries in Europe. They have three daughters and five grandchildren.
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