By Jeremiah G. Dys, Esq.
Every Christmas, I seem to find new meaning in an old carol. This year, it seems, I’ve heard the background of, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It’s message of ultimate hope amid despair is staggering.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is remembered not only for his exquisite poetry, but also for his trademark beard. He grew that beard after being severely burned. He was severely burned at a time in his life when everything seemed to be going wonderfully for him. Around Christmas, his wife had just given his daughter her first hair cut and, as was customary, the couple wanted to keep a lock for the memories. And, so, Henry’s wife began to melt wax over the fire.
Suddenly, her dress caught fire. Henry ran to the room only to find his wife ablaze. Looking around for something to smother the fire with, he wrapped his wife in the rug. Rather than smother the fire, it channelled the flames, fanning it brighter and hotter, ultimately killing his wife and severely burning his face.
Longfellow, understandably, entered a time of deep depression. Not long after, his son enlisted in the Union Army, but returned one Christmas soon thereafter severly ill. Once recovered, his son returned to the fight, only to sustain an injury that would leave him in need of constant care.
Thus, we hear Longfellow’s lament:
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!”
Like Longfellow, we live in a world in which “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth.” We argue, we fight, we debate. Opposing worldviews conflict. Wars are fought. Famine spreads. Innocents are killed. Children are left fatherless, wives are abandoned by their husbands. Disease and disability march ahead despite man’s best scientific efforts to quell their impact.
One might look at this fallen world and declare, “There is no peace on earth.” No, “good-will to men.”
Yet, that is not the final conclusion for Longfellow. Though he had been dealt a harsh life and that which he loved had been cruelly ripped from his hands, Longfellow ends his poem with hope:
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.”
There is certainty in Longfellow’s voice. Wrong shall fall, right shall prevail because the God that provides – and ensures – peace on earth, good-will to men is not dead. “Nor doth he sleep.”
Because we have a living and active God, concerned for the peace and benefit of his creatures, we have hope that the Wrong shall fall and the Right prevail. What is more, we serve a God who has himself conquered the Wrong and is Himself the Right that not only shall prevail, but has prevailed.
As we celebrate the incarnation of this living, active, prevailing God, let us be reminded that, even in our political dialog where hope is often strangled, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right Prevail.”
Jeremiah G. Dys, Esq., is Senior Counsel at Liberty Institute, a nationwide religious liberty law firm. Dys is regularly featured in local, state, and national print, radio, and television outlets. He lives close to Charleston with his wife and growing family.
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