PEACE ON EARTH
WALKING THE 25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
It was December 25th in 1863 at the height of the Civil War and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow celebrated Christmas day . . . alone.
Longfellow had just received news that his son, Charley, had been wounded on the battlefield. Two years earlier his wife had tragically died in a horrific fire that left him scarred for life.
With church bells pealing in the background, the poem Longfellow penned that day would be set to music and endure as the familiar Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
At the heart of the message, he incorporated the refrain of the angelic host announcing Christ’s birth:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
I HEARD THE BELLS . . . IN MERRY OLD ENGLAND
I first became aware of this beloved American poem and Christmas carol at nine years of age.
Though I repeatedly verbalized my skepticism, my parents had planned an evening so that three younger siblings could visit Father Christmas at famed Marks and Spencer’s in Eastbourne, UK.
It was a bitterly cold winter’s night and the typically relentless drizzle had turned into large white snowflakes that carpeted the ground with more than an inch of mushy snow.
Waiting to cross Terminus Road, we listened to the words of Longfellow’s carol as the Salvation Army Choir sang in perfect harmony:
“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.
I 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.”
Then, the traffic light changed and we began crossing the street. Before the din of the city had completely drowned out the sound of their voices, I heard:
“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.”
ANGERED BY INEQUITY IN THE WORLD
I was deeply perturbed by what I heard.
Maybe you’re scratching your head at this point and asking, Why?
To a young boy living in the 1960’s, the whole world seemed to be in turmoil. I was well aware of the anxiety surrounding the Cold War and daily tallies of Americans who died in service in Vietnam. I knew the fear of the threat of communism; observed the reality of moral decline and well-knew Europe’s depressed economy as my parents struggled in that environment.
Trudging through sloppy slush, squeezed by clamoring Christmas shoppers along with the incessant roar of traffic competing with the carolers, the words of that stanza somehow became embedded in my mind.
Even at that tender age, I was angered by the seeming paradox.
Our Shared Experience Today
Today, many—from the youth to those of advanced age, alike—are conflicted by angry emotion as they react to domestic and world affairs.
Looking at reality in our everyday experience, it seems that “peace, goodwill toward men” has never been more elusive than it is today.
The year 2016 will go down in history as a year of escalating worldwide terror on a scale never before experienced.
The recent terrorist attacks at a church in Cairo and marketplace in Istanbul have claimed 63 lives and maimed more than 200.
In our fallen world, both history and personal experience teach us that the unexpected can happen at any time.
Even close fellowship with God does not guarantee freedom from adversity for people of faith.
In point of fact, unlike those in North America, the majority of Christians in the world face the growing reality of violent persecution as they stand in contradiction to an opposing worldview.
Cable news channels, the Internet and social media continually report the reality of war, unrelenting conflict in the Middle East, continuous threats of intimidation and barbaric terrorism on our own soil along with consequential economic and political instability worldwide—all may tempt us to wonder if peace on earth or goodwill to men is even possible.
But, that is not the whole story!
LONGFELLOW ON INEQUITY IN THE WORLD
Drowned out by the noise of the city on the sidewalk in Eastbourne, I missed the hopeful message in the next stanza as we entered the store. It would take 10 more years to discover what Longfellow had learned in adversity:
“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.”
God is not detached from His creation or surprised by current events.
The entirety of Scripture presents God’s intimate involvement in world affairs.
God is eternal and omniscient. He isn’t bound by time and space; and, unlike man sees all of history like a colossal appointment calendar. Transcending the time space continuum, God has planned every date of the grand calendar of history and knows what He has purposed for each nanosecond. He knows how all of the circumstances of each individual’s life and the combined events of history mesh to accomplish His will and purpose.
God is so awesome and mighty that He even uses what is intended for evil to accomplish what is ultimately good in order to implement His overarching plan and purpose for creation (Rm. 8:28; Eph. 1:11).
Together—you and I, along with other people of faith—can be instrumental in affirming that God not only knows about the chaotic reverberations of our day-to-day reality, He alone can right the wrongs in the world so that the message of peace, goodwill toward men can ring out loud and clear!
Don’t allow “peace, goodwill toward men” encapsulated in the true message of Christmas to be drowned out by the noise of the harsh realities in the world; share the Good News!
1) Walking to church (c. 1853). By George Henry Durrie (1820–1863) [PD-US, PD-Art], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) La cloche de l’église Saint Nicolas (The Bell of the Church of Saint Nicolas). By Cricajoline [1.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. With 40 plus years of ministry experience, Rev. McCracken is known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author via Contact Form under ABOUT. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Categories: Walking Through the Days of Christmas