Friday, December 9, 2011

God is absolutely not dead nor doth He sleep!

I have always loved the Christmas hymn "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" because I knew the story behind the lyrics...or, rather, I thought I knew the story. Learning the whole story makes the touching lyrics even more powerful.  They are a testament to the healing that can be brought only by our Savior's perfect love.

Here is the story...

In July of 1861, three months after the Civil War had just begun, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was living with his family in Massachusetts. Because of the summer's heat, Henry's wife Fanny, decided to shorten her seven-year-old daughter's long ringlets.
 As many mothers have done through the years, she wanted to preserve her daughter Edie's childhood ringlets. She heated some wax in order to seal the envelope in which the locks had been placed. Without noticing, some of the hot wax fell upon her long, heavy skirts just as a summer breeze came rushing through the window. The smoldering flames grew. Fanny ran from the room to protect her daughter. Henry threw himself onto his wife trying to put out the fire, burning his face, arms and hands.

Fanny Longfellow died the next day. Henry's heart broke.

Later that same tragic year, at Christmas he wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." A year after her death, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace." The following Christmas, 1862, Longfellow wrote: "'A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me." For two years, his heart ached for his dear wife.

Around Christmas time in 1863, Henry was informed that his son, Lieutenant Charles Longfellow, was severely wounded in battle. His beloved wife was gone. His son was lost. Longfellow had found solace in his continued writings but by this time his grief was so great that he didn't have any words to write in his journal for the Christmas of 1863. When a writer has no more words to write, one can know the writer's heart is paralyzed with grief.

But then on Christmas Day 1864, three years after Fanny's death and a year after the tragic news of his son's injuries, and in Henry's continued grief, he heard the church bells ringing through the town. Somehow, through the simple sound of the Christmas bells, Henry's wounded heart awoke and a ray of hope inspired him to write a poem entitled "Christmas Bells". His poem would later be put to music and become one of Christendom's most beloved Christmas Carols, "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day".

This is not just a poem or a song - these are the honest words coming directly from Longfellow's heart...

A Longfellow Christmas - Mormon Tabernacle Choir (hear a beautiful rendition of this song by clicking on this link.

Christmas Bells
(The poem has some stanzas not included in the song 
but they help us see what his world was like and why he felt the way he did)

"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!"

I love the phrase, "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep..." In Longfellow's darkest grief, the bells would have had to be loud and they would have needed to pierce deeply into his wounded heart in order for these words to come forth.

My heart has been wounded before. Many times. Somehow, in the darkest moments, I have also heard those Christmas morning bells. They have "pealed more loud and deep" when I have needed them and they have awakened my heart to the truth that "GOD IS NOT DEAD, NOR DOTH HE SLEEP."

Maybe someone reading this has felt that same way before. I'm fairly certain we all have. It just happens to be part of this mortal life we have here. Like Longfellow, out of our darkest moments can come beautiful, glorious, eternal lessons. 

This can ONLY happen because out of our Savior's darkest moments came the most beautiful, the most glorious and the most eternal lesson of all...YOU ARE LOVED!

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
"For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:16-17

I want to testify, along with Longfellow, and so many others...







  Listen for those Christmas bells. Let them ring loud and deep in your heart. Let them testify of our Savior's complete understanding of your heart. Let Him heal you.

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