I had only just begun getting into the day, cleaning the house before finishing up an editing project. As I worked in the kitchen, I put a radio on so I could listen to some Christmas music. I caught the tale end of a news report about a school shooting, and that a few people might have died. I said a prayer for the families of those involved as I continued working.
It was only when I switched on my computer and saw a comment from a friend on Facebook that I looked up a report to see what had happened.
An elementary school in Connecticut. Eighteen children, the reports said, had been killed. Most of them were from a kindergarten classroom.
When I read that, I just began to cry. For the parents who have just lost their beloved children. At this time of year, when joy and peace and hope should be filling hearts worldwide, instead their hearts are suddenly filled with the horror of such a senseless tragedy.
I cried when I thought of how their Christmas will dawn as bleak as the grey winter sky, with no hope in their hearts of spring. I thought of my own children, my love for them, my joy at their sweetness and love, and couldn’t imagine from one day to the next, never seeing them alive again on earth. I cried to think that was the sorrowful realization of so many parents today, because of an act of hatred and malice.
I had just, moments before, watched a video on youtube, telling the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
I felt so strongly his cry:
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.”
When peace is torn away and sorrow and hate takes its place, the very song of hope and love is mocked and, it seems, destroyed. He wrote the song during such a time, when the Civil War in the United States was tearing families apart. His son had been wounded in battle, only a short time after his wife had died. How certainly he must have felt that the song of peace was gone forever, at a time when hate was so strong.
As it is today.
It’s Christmas, the time we celebrate the life of a child. Not just any child. But God’s Son, who was laid in a manger as angels sang he would bring peace to earth.
Where is that peace on earth? Why does hate seem so strong?
Henry heard the bells on Christmas Day. And as he listened, he wrote:
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.”
The bells today seem silent. Seldom are they heard. They used to ring out with hope at Christmas.
In the world today, has the music died?
When will the wrong fail? When will the right prevail? When will the bells be heard across the world, ringing out peace on earth, good will to men? Not soon enough for so many, it seems. Those whose hearts are torn and broken from the violent, destructive acts from another.
It was foretold, so many years ago, that hate would abound, because of love growing cold in the hearts of men. Everywhere I look, it is happening. I feel almost like saying, with Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, when he sees darkness begin to cover his land: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
Gandalf wisely answers, ““So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”
The world has entered its night, and when you’re awake at night, it seems as though the darkness lasts forever.
“Yet dawn is ever the hope of men.”
It was the hope of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, when he wrote the final verse to the song:
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!
Morning will come. The bells will be heard by all mankind. Peace will ring throughout all lands. And the shout of joy will never end.
Yet now, when darkness rises, especially in the hearts of those hurting and broken, what can be done?
“All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”
Each of us has been given life on the earth today for a reason. Regardless of what we might believe, if we each choose to bring love and hope, and to pray for peace and comfort … perhaps that is one of the greatest gifts that can be given this Christmas.
For the sake of a Love that slept in a manger, that hope might live through earth’s darkest nights, and rise again in the morning with the wild and sweet song of peace on earth forever more.