Friday, December 25, 2009

I Hear the Bells

Merry Christmas, everyone! In honor of my favorite holiday (which, unfortunately, I am sharing with an unwelcome migraine), I would like to share one of my favorite Christmas poems, written by one of my favorite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote this beautiful work during the Civil War. There are two more stanzas to it, but they are quite morose and pertain to the (at the time) ongoing war that had torn our nation in two. Since those two stanzas end the poem on a rather despairing note, I have chosen to omit them.

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.

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.”

Whenever I read this poem, it for some reason reminds me of an old story I heard long ago, about a church that had a magical set of bells, which would only ring when a person offered a gift of true meaning. Wealthy people came from all over to place gifts at the alter, hoping to hear the bells. They offered precious jewels, gold, and all manner of expensive items, but the bells stayed silent. Then a poor child came to the alter, with no present in his hands. He had nothing but his old, ragged coat, which he was wearing in a futile effort to keep out the cold. While people smirked at all that the boy lacked, he placed his coat on the alter. Suddenly, the bells sprang to life, ringing loudly for all the country to hear.

Two thousand years ago, an even more precious gift was given to the world. It didn't come wrapped in fancy paper from Macy's. It wasn't purchased from any store. It was the first gift of Christmas, the gift that started this whole beautiful celebration. That first gift of Christmas was the gift that truly keeps on giving, the infant Jesus Christ. I hope that today, somewhere between opening presents and eating colorful cookies, you can have a moment to remember that first gift of Christmas. And I hope that, if you haven't already, you can find room in your heart for Him.

Merry Christmas, everyone. And may you hear the bells today.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"