You and me, and the bells of Christmas


Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South, 

And with the sound the carols drowned

Of peace on earth, goodwill 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, goodwill 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, goodwill 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, goodwill to men.”

          – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The three stanzas prior to the conclusion of this poem — later to become a Christmas carol — make a pretty convincing argument for despair. And I find it surprising, and somewhat shocking, that Longfellow embraces despair so strongly here. You wonder if he’s created a hole too big to climb out of. Indeed, upon first hearing it, I wondered if that last stanza is strong enough to offset the depression.

To many, the “peace on earth, goodwill to men” proclamation might seem an empty promise, especially since there is no peace on earth, and hasn’t been since Christ was here. There is surely room for the cynic. “There is no peace on earth,” and “hate is strong and mocks the song.” Indeed, it does. These statements are backed by reality. How then can we believe, and how does the sound of the bells, however loud and deep, drown out the verifiable reality of hatred and the lack of peace?

God can bring good to everyone’s situation, no matter how deep the despair. It’s not the bells that do it. It’s not just the bells pealing louder than the cannon, it’s what the bells represent. The bells represent the birth of the Christ child that has changed everything. That child has grown up and taken away the sins of the world, and all who believe know the forgiveness and walk in the peace and the joy it brings. It’s not the bells that drown out despair, it is you and me.

Once you truly receive and understand God’s grace, you become a grace-giver. You have to; it is the nature of grace. The presence of Christ in the world through His Holy Spirit changes things. Does the world change? Yes, in that you and I are changing and we live differently from how we would without Christ. 

But it’s a quiet and gradual change. “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given,” proclaims another Christmas carol, underlining the fact that the changes take place quietly inside of individual human hearts. Yes, peace came into the world and continues to come, and yes, goodwill has come in the form of Grace Turned Outward. We are a big part of the fulfillment of this proclamation. We are the peace and the goodwill of which the angels spoke. Did you know that? I’m not so sure I did before I started writing this. So, when you hear those Christmas bells, think Grace Turned Outward and how you are the proof that peace and goodwill have come into the world.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, you and me bringing peace, goodwill to men.


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3 Responses to You and me, and the bells of Christmas

  1. Mark says:

    From Today’s Catch: “Once you truly receive and understand God’s grace, you become a grace-giver. You have to; it is the nature of grace.” To which I’ll add an Amen!

  2. Marc says:

    When I think of Christmas bells, I remember the last scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, where the bell rings announcing that Clarence has finally won his wings! A happy occasion. Also, listen to this beautiful rendition of Carol of the Bells:

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