Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Soapbox: The Day Henry Heard the Bells

Just three months after the first shot of the Civil War was fired, the beloved wife of America’s poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suffered a tragic death from injuries sustained in an accidental domestic fire.  Shortly thereafter, Henry received the following letter from his firstborn son Charley, “I have tried to resist the temptation of going [to war] without your leave but cannot any longer.”

With that letter, young Charley had committed to the cause of the Union and stricken his father with even greater grief than that which he already endured daily at the acceptance of his wife’s untimely death.  Some months later, on Dec. 1, 1862, Henry received word that Charley was clinging to life from a crippling gunshot wound.

Declaring to friends and family that Christmas is no more, Henry’s life had been turned completely upside down as he was unable to escape a heart wound that wouldn’t heal.  It was from that grief that many great works were born, including the familiar words he penned in Christmas of 1864, and how relevant they still are!

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.”

Though the times were bleak for Henry in a nation plagued with unrest, along with his own personal turmoil, he was able to recall the words of the Psalmist:  God does not sleep.  And so it is, some hundred-plus years later that we must embrace the same faith that the God of Christmas is still alive.

While we have made Christmas about so many things other than that same hope in the darkness, we must always remember that Christmas is not about being naughty or nice.  Christmas is not about deserving Christmas.  Our thinking gets so skewed by glitter and all things shiny that we forget the humility of the manger and just how far God would go to rescue us from a fate of eternal condemnation.  That alone is the gift of Christmas, waiting for us to unwrap the crimson streamers of Christ’s blood for our very souls. 

When we feel the Christmas cheer like magic in the air, it is so much more than candy-filled tins and silver bells.  Even when Christmas just doesn’t “feel like it,” we can rest assured that Jesus is always there.  Funny thing is, even 18 years after Fanny’s death, Henry still wrote about the sting of his loss in works like The Cross of Snow; his journey as a man in need of God’s presence in spite of either good times or bad surfaces at times throughout his work, but most prominently in his poem Christmas Bells that inspired the popular Christmas carol when he heard the bells on Christmas Day.

Like our familiar friend from American literature, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, may we also hear the bells sound loud and clear this Christmas Day in spite of the world around us no matter what is going on in our lives!  I pray you have a wonderful time with friends and family, but most of all, I pray you have an open heart to receive the gift of the Savior.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!

From my desk to yours, have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Dear Reader.

Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper. Follow Brandi on Twitter @BrandiChambless

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Brandi Chambless
Brandi Chambless
Read Brandi's column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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