Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among people. (Luke 2:14)
Christmas Day was a day of joy, confusion, and hurry in my childhood home in Connecticut. After the unwrapping of gifts and breakfast together, we piled in the car for Christmas Day worship, as was our Methodist custom.
When worship ended many families rushed home to continue their gatherings, but some lingered to greet one another over coffee and Christmas cookies in the church fellowship hall. I and a few of my friends quickly headed to the church belfry, where we were greeted and organized by one of the ushers. There we lined up to grab the bell-rope, pull it down, and hold on as the rope recoiled upwards. The sounds of the bells from all the neighboring churches brought people out of their homes.
And the sound was always greeted by two long time church members, Doris and Ethel. Each year upon hearing the tones they would happily exclaim, “The bells are ringing, now it is Christmas.”
I think of them whenever I hear the melody and words of a favorite Christmas song, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” written in 1863 during the dark days of our nation’s Civil War. Two years earlier, Henry’s wife died. The following year his son enlisted in the Union Army and was severely wounded. The poem was a cry of despair that reads like one of David’s Psalms.
It seems appropriate for these times of COVID-19 and national anxiety. So, I share verses of this hymn with you and wish you the joy of Luke from whom Longfellow found inspiration.
I heard the bells on Christmas day,
Their old familiar carols play,
And mild and sweet their songs repeat,
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 rang the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor does he sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.
Then ringing singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Rev. Rich Kirschner is a retired minister and member of Naples UCC since 2017. He is graciously leading New Chapters Men’s Spirituality Group, which meets every on Wednesdays, 10:30-11:30 a.m. via Zoom. If you are interested in attending, be sure to check the Wednesday e-blast for the Zoom link.
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,
Help us to bring the peace we seek.