Formation

Don’t Let Hate Mock the Song

Merry Christmas!

According to the Christian calendar, Christmas is not a one-day event, but a twelve-day celebration. This often forgotten fact is the source of the Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” For Christians, it is Christmas all the way up to January 6 which is Epiphany. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is such an life-altering event that it deserves more than just a day of exchanging gifts and gathering around the table with friends and family for a special meal.

Christmas deserves a multi-day celebration where we rejoice in the mystery of the incarnation. God has not abandoned us. God came to us. God became one of us. God remained faithful to his people, carrying in the very flesh of Jesus all the promises he made to Israel to rule and reign over the world through his people. So keep the Christmas cookies coming and leave all the lights up on your house. Keep that tree proudly displayed in your living room, at least until Friday.

During the Christmas season, we join the shepherds and the angelical choir in worshiping the newborn king. Worship is a key component to the Christmas story in Luke 2:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 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 among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV)

The coming of this king would not be like the kingdoms of the world. Earthly princes and rulers came to rule by force and domination, but the reign of this king would be the rule of peace. The angels sang, “…on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased,” or as we know it in its more traditional wording, “peace on earth and good will towards men.”

The kingdom of King Jesus is a peaceable kingdom, but as we look back on 2016 we see a lot of discord, a lot of violence, a lot of hate. The pictures and videos coming out of Aleppo may be the freshest images of hate in our minds. At Christmas we are singing, “peace on earth,” but we sing in the face of hate which seems so strong.

We are singing “peace on earth” but we sing in the face of hate which seems so strong. Click To Tweet

Christmas Bells

On Christmas Day 1863, American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat with his wounded son who had suffered injuries during a battle in the Civil War. Longfellow had buried his wife two years earlier. His wife had died from burns she sustained after her dress had caught on fire. He was able to extinguish the flames, receiving burns on his face, arms, and hands, but sadly his wife died the next day. His son had been shot in the war and was nearly paralyzed. Through his heartache and anguish, Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells,” which became the lyrics for the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

The poem expresses the beauty of church bells ringing on Christmas Day juxtaposed with the awful sounds of war. Longfellow writes:

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!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

The reverberating sounds of cannon fire seemed to have drowned out the singing voice of the church bells. The toils of war seemed to have overtaken the voices of angels singing, “peace on earth.” As the poem works its way to the end, the poet appears to be nearly swallowed up in darkness:

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 you are still grieving the death of your wife and you are watching your son struggle to recover from wounds suffered in a war splitting a nation apart, the unquestionable human reaction is to drop your head and acknowledge what you feel. Despair. Sorrow. Dejection.

Despair and Hope

For us living more than 150 years after Longfellow wrote his poem, we can feel some of the same things. We can look out through our digital windows and see the fighting, the suffering and pain, and say with Longfellow, “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth.” In following the Prince of Peace we are regularly tempted to exchange the Christmas message of peace and goodwill for the popular message of power and self-will. Hate is strong. Why should we continue singing our song of peace when so many ignore, dismiss, or mock it? Longfellow answers our question as he brings his poem to a close:

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.”

We are tempted to exchange the message of peace for the message of power. Click To Tweet

Our hope is an eschatological hope, a coming hope that in the end God will make all things right. Ours is a hope in the peaceable kingdom foretold by Isaiah and the other Hebrew prophets, when it will come to pass when “the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains” (Isaiah 2:2). During this time the nations will come to this mountain and learn the ways of the Creator God where they will learn war no more (Isaiah 2:4). “They shall not hurt or destroy” on this mountain “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

The good news is that this future hope has broken into the present through the coming of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit. In and through the church, the mountain of the LORD can be found. Our responsibility is to embody, to the best of our ability, this peaceable kingdom, refusing to allow hate to mock the song of peace on earth.

We are those who will not hurt or destroy anyone with our words or our actions as we learn and embody the ways of the Prince of Peace. Christmas time is the time to consider how we can reflect God’s peace into the world, trusting that the brightness of the light of peace will not be overwhelmed by the darkness all around us. The light stays bright as long as we remain committed to the ways of love and peace.

The light stays bright as long as we remain committed to the ways of love and peace. Click To Tweet

Here is the poem in its entirety:

Christmas Bells
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1863)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of 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!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

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!”

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.”