Celebrating Christmas in the midst of war, suffering and grief


Have you ever heard the original lyrics of the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”? Have you listened to the lyrics carefully? It’s not exactly the blissful naiveté of “Deck the Halls”. It’s much more real and raw than that.

Many of us are familiar with the children’s version of the Christmas story, which like the song proclaims, ‘Peace on earth; good will to men.’, but it stops there. And that’s why the original lyrics of the poem by Henry Longfellow (on which this song is based) are so profound. Longfellow had experienced that there was violence and ugliness on earth and great suffering and loss in his own life. And – like us – he wrestles with the reality of life, which seems to contradict the message – or at least the children’s version of the message he had heard before.

And this puts him in touch with the full message of Christmas. One that recognises that we live in a world that is full of suffering and pain and hate and evil. And yet that God is not dead or asleep. On the contrary, he leaps to the earth like a warrior and allows the brokenness and hate and evil and death to overwhelm him, so at to conquer and transform it from within. And so, we can still have hope. We can still ring those bells in the midst of war, grief and when we feel broken. Because Christmas reminds us that God has become one of us; he is near and he loves you and me. He calls us to open our hearts to him, so that he can give us his comfort, his love, his hope and his joy, in the midst of whatever we’re going through. And experience him transforming us – giving those difficult experiences new meaning and purpose for our life.

Mike Schmitz unpacks this message here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9LAVHloQq8

If you’re interested, you will find the original lyrics and some of the history of the poem here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Heard_the_Bells_on_Christmas_Day

And the song by ‘Casting Crowns’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F756Mjxxrvc

Image Credit: ThePixelman from Pixabay

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