Hope: The Story of “I heard the bells on Christmas Day”

Today is the first Sunday of the Advent season. Earlier this season I shared a little about what Advent is and how you might want to prepare for Christmas by lighting Advent candles. You’ll find that information in the blog “An Advent wreath this year?”  (https://wegathertogether14.com/2014/11/24/an-advent-wreath-this-year/)

On this Sunday, our focus is “hope.”

We use this word so easily. “I hope that I lose weight.” “I hope that my team wins.” “I hope that the sale item is still in the store when I get there.” Our casual use of the word hope cheapens it and changes its meaning.

Hope is powerful. The hope of the Advent Season is the promise of the Messiah, the promise of a Savior, the promise of the second coming of Christ. And, at that second coming, we will see God as He is and He will welcome His children to His eternal home.

Is that hope of the second coming a little distant for you today? Do you need hope for the pressures of this world, of your current situation? Let me share the story of the great American author, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. You will remember him from that American history class you took years ago. He wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Song of Hiawatha.”

Longfellow was a poet; he stood against slavery; and, he had a hard life. His first wife died in childbirth and in the years following her death he struggled to find purpose. He was surprised to fall in love a second time. He and his second wife, Francis, had six children and were incredibly happy. Then, the impossible happened. While curling her daughter’s hair, a spark landed on Francis’ dress and started a terrible fire. Henry tried to put out flames with a carpet but was successful only after too much damage had been done. The day after the fire, Francis died.  And, Longfellow was so badly burned that he was unable to attend her funeral; he wore a beard the rest of his life, hiding his horrific physical scars.

A short time after the death of Francis their oldest son, Charles, announced that he wanted to join the Union army to advance the war against slavery. Longfellow said no; it was too soon after the death of Francis. But Charles went anyway. Within a year he was injured in battle and later died from infection of the wound.

It was on December 25, 1864, not long after the deaths of Francis and Charles, that Longfellow wrote the poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Think about his situation for a minute. In spite of his sorrow, his pain, and the sadness of the Civil War, the Christmas bells on churches in his community of Cambridge, Massachusetts rang out.

Although our stories are different, we understand his frustration. For, when we are struggling, the world goes on, seeming to mock us. We hear the Christmas carols and secular Christmas songs and we wish that the sound would stop – we begin to hate the very sounds that are intended to bring us joy.  We shy away from those who want to “cheer us up.”  But, if we listen carefully we will hear the hope of the Lord.  God, Himself, reaches out to our spirits and whispers, “Child, I am here.  Hope in me and not in the things of this world.”

Longfellow’s poem ends with the most beautiful words – words of hope. God knows all about our pain, our struggles. In spite of where we are, God knows where we can be. He gives hope in the midst of darkness. Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, join Longfellow in seeing the hope that is ours if we only accept it.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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!

Till, 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!

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!”

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”  (Micah 7:7)


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