As we prepare to celebrate Christmas Eve, I thought I would tell you a story. It’s a story about one of the most beloved of all the Christmas songs we sing this time of the year.
Christmas Eve services at Harvest
Speaking of Christmas Eve, we will be having live services at Harvest today.
Our Christmas eve services will be at 4:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. It will be a musical retelling of the story of the birth of Jesus. I will also share a brief message to help us focus on the real “reason for the season.”
These services will be webcast live and will be available in our archives. You might want to watch this service as a family.
The sadness of the holidays
One of the most familiar songs we hear during the holidays is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the story behind it is interesting.
In 1860, Longfellow was at the peak of his success as a poet. Abraham Lincoln had just been elected President, giving hope to many.
But things soon turned dark for America and for Longfellow personally. The Civil War began the next year, and Longfellow’s wife died in a tragic accident in their home. Longfellow suffered severe burns on his hands and face while trying to save his wife.
He was so badly burned that he could not even attend her funeral.
Sorrow at Christmas
In his diary for Christmas Day 1861, he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” In 1862, the toll of war began to mount, and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”
In 1863, his son–who had run away to join the Union army–was severely wounded and came home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.
A new Christmas song is born
Longfellow wanted to pull out of his despair, so he decided to try to capture the joy of Christmas in verse. He began:
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 came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, goodwill to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother, and father against son?”
God is not dead
But he kept on going, and wrote in the sixth stanza:
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.”
But then, catching an eternal perspective and the real message of Christmas and Christ Himself, he wrote in the final stanza:
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.”
That’s right, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!”
If you want a blessed Christmas Eve tonight, focus on that.