Another fantastic guest-post from my friend Benji Bruneel:
“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!”
Some Christmas songs attempt to get us in a jolly spirit (think, “Have a Holly, Jolly
Christmas”). Others seek to remind us of what took place in Bethlehem (think,
“What Child Is This?”). Still others invite us to stroll down nostalgia lane (think,
“White Christmas”). Some just suck (better to trust me and not click this link).
A precious few, like Longfellow’s gem set to music, tell a story that sounds strangely
In 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow crafted the poem “Christmas Bells,” (watch it below) which draws confidently upon the angelic announcement of the angels, “on earth, peace to men” (Luke 2:14). Yet, Longfellow also wrote in the shadow of his son’s injury in the Civil War and his wife’s death. And, as he tries hard to balance the realities he sees with the promise he has heard, the poem wanders through appropriately dark corners. “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!’”
You feel that? In this Christmas season, do you feel the disconnect as Longfellow did? Above a Judean hillside, angels saturated the inky sky with light, hope, and a message of, “Peace on earth.” But, we turn on the television to watch news saturated with war, death, unrest, and sadness that seems to have leapt right out of the dark corners that Longfellow knew so well.
So, how do we live as people who believe the angelic announcement of peace but see
so little of it in our own world?
First, as my good friend would say, “Embrace the tension.” The way of the Christian
has always been through the middle of the conflicts. We cannot sit and lament, pining for wholly fictional days of imaginary peace gone by (slaughter of the innocents, anyone?). But, we also ought not have such an ill-informed naivety about the world that we are surprised at the tumult that accompanies us as we follow Christ. After all, we were promised trouble, not ease.* So, head into the fray of this peaceless world with your eyes wide open.
Second, remain confident in the hope that we hold on to. Yes, things are not at all as
we would like them, but that assertion can’t end with despair because we also know
that things are not yet as they finally will be, and that hope sustains us. After all, who
hopes for what he already has? Keep your eyes not only wide open but also on the
better city that is yet to come.
Funny how hope and peace are so intertwined. At least they were for Longfellow.
Perhaps not surprisingly, since Longfellow worked long before the overly-angsty
emo days, “Christmas Bells” doesn’t end with despair and dejected heads. It ends,
rather, with the confidence of one assured of victory, “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.’”
Finally, we need to figure out our role in peacemaking. What if we lived like the angels’ announcement of peace on earth actually meant peace, well, on earth? What would happen in your family, your community, your church, or your wherever if you took seriously Jesus’ call to be a peacemaker?
Too many Christians, as best I can tell, think the angels’ announcement of peace on
earth had little bearing on the earth; that what they actually meant when they said “earth” was limited to spiritual reconciliation between God and man. This reconciliation is a significant promise in Scripture and a major facet of Christian hope, belief and life, but didn’t the angels actually say, “on earth”? Let’s not rush past that in our unease with the so-called social gospel. We have a role to play in peacemaking, and Advent, of all times, ought to restore our fervor.
We live in a world that aches for peace and the shadows in the dark corners seem to loom larger each day. But, we can rest assured that we serve a God who is, in fact, the author of peace, and that wrong shall fail and right prevail. As we wait for that blessed hope, the coming and lasting peace, let’s get to work making peace around us.
*John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this
world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”