And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Last April, Clay became the interim pastor of Coastline Bible Church in Ventura, CA. It’s been a blessed experience. Recently, the choir, including him, sang at the Ventura tree lighting ceremony. One Christmas carol they sang was “I Heard the Bells.” The following Sunday, they sang it again in church. Both times, they did it with all the passion that the song merits. Also, that Sunday, Clay spoke a powerful message related to the song.
I hope you will let me share with you some of my own related thoughts. I think you will find them inspirational!
Here is a bit about the song’s history: It was originally a poem written in 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was born in tragedy. Henry’s wife Fanny died when her dress caught on fire. In his desperate attempt to rescue her, he suffered intense burns to his hands, arms, and face.
Added to these personal sorrows, was that of a beloved nation embroiled in the brutal Civil War with Americans killing Americans. Then, as if things were not already grievous enough, Henry’s son Charles returned home from the war severely wounded. The next couple of years were ones of brokenness and despair for Henry.
But shards of light finally broke through the darkness. The war ended, Henry’s heart began to heal, and hope was reborn. He wrote his poem.
It reflects the despair surrounding him during the war years:
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!”
It ends, however, with a triumphant burst of hope for peace on earth:
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."*
Today, we live in a time not unlike Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s. Our world seems overrun with evil. Daily, we hear of wars, atrocities, and “man’s inhumanity to man.”
Looking back a hundred years, 1917 brought World War I. Pres. Woodrow Wilson dubbed it “The War to End Wars.” But since that time, the U.S. has been involved in at least 24 wars and the world in more than 267! **
Unfortunately, Jesus said it would get worse as history gallops toward its climax: You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. . . . All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matthew 24:6-8).
Yet we all crave peace. We love the angels singing, Peace on earth, goodwill to men. The prophet Isaiah even prophesied that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) would come and be called the Prince of Peace (See Isaiah 9:6.) Where, then, is the peace He came to bring?
Indeed, Jesus is the Prince of Peace! But there is a problem. Even He could not promise peace to His own land. Luke 19:41-42 explains, And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes (Luke 19:41-42).
So what’s up? Why didn’t Israel know “the things that make for peace?” The answer is here: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). They rejected the Giver of Peace. Thus, they could not find peace. To know the peace that God had for them, they must receive their King and His rule. While they looked for an earthly Messiah to wipe out the Roman oppressors and bring them an earthly peace, He had another end in view.
When questioned by Pilate about being a king, Jesus indicated that He was (and is). The Apostle John reports it this way:
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate (John 18:33-37).
Indeed, He is King but of another Kingdom, one that is heavenly and not earthly. We enter that realm and find Him to be our peace, both giving and preserving peace -- peace from God, peace with God, the peace of God, and even the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). Assuring us that we could only find true peace in Him, He said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. . . .I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world!" (John 14:27 &16:33).
Oh, but in that overcoming of the world, He also offered hope for that world. His people are His representatives of peace, His agents of reconciliation. When we learn to walk in His peace, we have peace to offer. Walls come down, the love of God draws lost humanity into it, the Kingdom of Heaven impacts earth.
Recently, Clay and I were in an airport shuttle. I began a conversation with the driver. As it turned out, he is a Muslim. He had never heard John 3:16 – that God loves him so much that He gave His Son to bring him eternal life – in his entire life! For the first time, that Muslim man heard Christmas bells ringing! And THAT is how God brings peace to our world – one soul at a time.
On that first Christmas, when the heavenly host sang jubilantly, Peace on earth, goodwill to men, they extended an invitation to all humanity. That invitation still stands. Every Christmas is meant to remind people that, no matter who they are or how crushed they feel, they can come bow before the manger and find everlasting peace.
For more than 2,000 years, the bells have been ringing, ringing, ringing. All the armies of evil have not silenced their message: The Prince of Peace was born on Christmas day!
One day very soon, we will hear heaven’s shout, The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15). We will live in the full reality of Isaiah’s prophesy, Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end (Isa. 9:7).
With this blessed hope ringing in our hearts, let’s make a point to share the Good News with a war-ravaged and weary world. Let’s help those around us to hear the heavenly bells ringing, Peace on earth, goodwill to men.
* Please watch a moving video of Longfellow’s struggle and hear “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZtNlZmnEMU
(NEW: I have two new book releases. See my website (www.cherylford.com) for info. Also, I hope you will visit my new Facebook page, The Pilgrim’s Progress.)
(PRAYER: If you have prayer requests, please send short ones my way, and I will join you in prayer.)