Where I live, there are church bells that ring every single day.
You see, I live behind small Methodist church, with an old-fashioned bell tower. In fact, I rent my tiny, wonderful home from this small, wonderful church. And 4 times a day, the bells ring out.
I love their sound. I love how loud they are, how strong they are. How they echo, just slightly.
I particularly love them at Christmas time.
They have come to be like the sky is to me. Settling. Steady. Sure. Faithful. They can be counted on.
Never once have the stopped. Day in, day out. They’ve been a constant presence in my life, since they day my crew and I moved into this tiny, wonderful house–broken, despairing, nearly hopeless.
Just recently, while I was sitting at my desk, working while listening to Christmas music, the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” came up in the play list.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever paid any attention to the lyrics. To me, it has always been such a dreadfully dull song. It sort of plods along, tune-wise. It doesn’t seem loud and majestic, like “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, or reflective, like “Silent Night.”
But as I sat at my desk, I found myself pulled to the words, written long ago by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for the first time that I remember:
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!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
- Had rolled along
- The unbroken song
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.”
These are not nothing words.
This is good stuff. Real Stuff. True Stuff.
It is so easy to fall into despair. Longfellow had much to despair over. When he wrote these words, he had learned that his song had been severely wounded in the Civil War, and he had lost his wife in a tragic fire. The man-rightfully so, understandably so-was despairing.
It is truly an intense song, when you consider that.
And, fitting for today. Hate is strong. And, it does mock the song of peace.
Life, is hard. So hard. It is exhausting.
But, here’s the thing.
God is not dead.
He does not sleep.
Yes, there are times, when it certainly seems as if He is dead. Or that He does sleep. That He doesn’t see the dark unsettledness. That He doesn’t know that we are despairing.
Or, even worse, that He doesn’t care.
But, that is not truth. That is not truth. That is not truth.
There is far, far too much evidence, that points otherwise.
And scripture assures us that He is not dead. Because 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is truth.
And He does not sleep. Because Psalm 121:3-4 is truth.
And He sees. And knows. Because Exodus 2:23-25 is truth.
And, He acts. Because Isaiah 64:1-4 is truth.
Sometimes it is hard to remember these things, when despair is deep.
I think that may be why Longfellow found such comfort in hearing the deep church bells ringing Christmas carols in those dark days he is immersed in. The bells were LOUD. They were DEEP. They were a steady, consistent reminder to Longfellow, as they chimed out the notes that comprised of familiar Christmas carols, whose Gospel words were etched deep into his soul.
Sometimes, we need such steady reminders.
Memorized scripture passages.
Memorized lyrics from Gospel-saturated music.
And a daily re-reminding of our own souls and minds, of the peace that only comes in knowing God.
I love the phrase in this song–referencing the Christmas carols–“wild and sweet”. Opposite words, but fitting. The message is wild. Outrageously wild. Scandlous-ly wild.
But, o my soul, it is also so, very, very sweet.
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him. Isaiah 64:1-4