Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas - may the bells ring for you now and in 2010

Julie Franklin

One reason I believe that peace comes to earth with restrictions in place is based on the fact that I have experienced that phenomenon in my own life. The times I have felt the greatest peace were times when I was striving to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands and was purposefully reaching out to others. We read “there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked”4 in the scriptures and sing “there is peace in righteous doing”5 from the hymnbook.

The restrictions that apply to the ability to have peace on earth are somewhat specific and have nothing to do with the circumstances we find ourselves in: We can be unprepared for final exams, papers, or projects; have minimal financial resources; still have no idea what we should get for the hard-to-shop-for person in our life; have an undeclared major; be a graduate without a job offer or graduate school acceptance; have health concerns, relationship issues, acne, or a bad haircut; or live in areas where there are wars, rumors of wars, religious intolerance, oppressive leaders, or obnoxious radio talk show hosts and still have the peace the angels promised.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow probably understood this when he penned the poem “Christmas Bells” that would be set to music and become a favorite Christmas carol—the refrain of which I mentioned earlier.

Mr. Longfellow used church bells ringing on Christmas Day as the setting for a poem he wrote during the Civil War. The fighting had been fierce and touched the lives of the Longfellow family personally. Mr. Longfellow’s son Charles, who had enlisted in the Union Army at 17 years of age, had arrived home about two weeks prior to Christmas 1863 after being critically injured in a battle.6 While Charles eventually recovered from his wounds, his father was likely concerned about the long-term health of his son and of his country. In addition to these concerns, Mr. Longfellow continued to feel the grave loss of his beloved wife, Francis Appleton Longfellow, also known as Fanny. In 1861, the same year the Civil War broke out, Fanny died from injuries she sustained when her light summer dress ignited in their home. The light weight of the fabric and the hoops she wore allowed ample oxygen to feed the flames, and Mrs. Longfellow was quickly engulfed. Mr. Longfellow attempted to extinguish the fire and was himself burned in the process. With her death he was left to raise five children and manage the affairs of his home as a single parent.7 The death of his wife and his son’s critical injuries were not the only tragedies in Mr. Longfellow’s life. Fanny was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s second wife, and together they had a daughter also named Frances who died when she was 17 months old.8 His first wife, Mary Potter Longfellow, died just over a month after she miscarried during her sixth month of pregnancy.9 This was a man who had every reason to pity himself and feel cranky about his condition, and yet he declared in beautiful verse:

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.”

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!10

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