We are in the midst of a six-week holiday season: for most of us, this time holds a treasure trove of cherished memories. For others, the discord between the chaos surrounding us and the advertised happiness of the season grates like fingernails on a chalkboard.
This experience isn’t unique. In 1863, in the city of Boston, a poet laureate grieved as the “joy” of Christmas approached.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow could find little over which to rejoice. His beloved wife had died in a tragic house fire two years earlier, at the start of the Civil War. In March 1863, his son Charles ran away to join the Union Army.
On Nov. 27, Charles was severely wounded in the Battle of Hope Church, Virginia. Henry and his youngest son Ernest traveled to Virginia and, on Dec. 8, returned to Cambridge, where the poet cared for his son as he slowly recovered.
During that time, Longfellow penned the words to a carol that chronicled his own journey of faith:
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 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!"
Many share Longfellow’s sentiment today. As a country we are more fractured than at any time since the 1860s. Discord dominates public discourse. From school shootings to smash-and-grab robberies, sheer evil threatens to drag us into the abyss of social chaos. It’s easy to regard “peace on earth” with a large dose of skepticism and cynicism.
The source of peace can’t be found outside us; the driving force of outward chaos arises from inward turmoil.
At the very heart of this season lies the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God. The prophet Isaiah declared him to be “the Prince of peace.” Jesus came to bring us peace with God by redeeming us from the chaos in our own hearts, the evil that separates us from God himself.
Jesus willingly came to not only live the most exemplary life, but to atone for our sins by shedding his own blood on the cross. Faith in Jesus ends the strife between us and God.
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1 NLT)
Through the dark time in his life, Longfellow realized that God himself was the only one who could bring about peace.
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!
May the peace that can only come from being right with God through faith in Jesus Christ fill your heart and guide your life, despite the chaos that surrounds all of us.
Don Baumann is outreach pastor at Hilltop Community Church.
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