This post was originally published December 19, 2011.
Away in a Manger. Silent Night. Joy to the World. Go, Tell it on the Mountain. Carol of the Bells. Oh, Holy Night. Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.
It’s hard to escape the sounds of the season. And why would you want to escape the beautiful music in this season of singing?
But today I want to speak to some of you who truly may want to just plug your ears if you hear another Christmas carol. And why would anyone want to do that?
Perhaps it’s been a hard year.
Maybe you’ve lost your job. Or a baby. Or a loved one.
Maybe you can’t sell your house, and it’s hard right now to make ends meet. Maybe you desire a child, and it’s just not happening. Maybe your marriage is on the rocks.
Maybe this Christmas season you want to celebrate through singing…but all you hear is silence.
I have been there. And I can never, ever say “I know how you feel.” Because, truly, each and every situation is unique. I do not know how you feel.
But I have been in seasons of loss, in financial hardship, in painful relationships. And all I heard was silence. And the last thing I wanted to do was sing.
My favorite Christmas carol has always been “Oh, Holy Night.” But there is an old hymn I discovered a few years ago that is a new favorite of mine–and perhaps it is because it speaks to those times when we truly don’t feel like singing.
The song is called “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” And as the story goes, the great American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, penned the words to this great hymn (originally a poem) after a tragic year of personal loss. His wife had died, the Civil War had broken out, and his son had been severely wounded in battle.
As you will hear in the following version by Casting Crowns, the song points to bells proclaiming “peace on Earth.” Peace–on that Christmas Day–felt nonexistent to Longfellow. At the sound of the bells, he next wrote:
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.’
But then, in the midst of great tragedy and seemingly silence from God, Longfellow comes back to what he knew was true, despite his great mourning:
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 hope you enjoy the following rendition of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Casting Crowns:
And, as a bonus, here is another one of my “new” favorites: “Here with Us,” sung by Joy Williams.