“Faith – It Sounds Like Christmas!”

By Pastor Ron Buxton

He was born in Portland Maine, and his ancestry was entirely English. As a lover of literature, he published his first writings in the local Portland newspaper. In fact, it would be a foretaste of his passion, that eventually led him into international recognition. History records him as one of the most beloved American poets of all time.

Up until those last two sentences, I could have been referring to myself. I, too, was born in Portland Maine from two parents of English ancestry. And some of my earliest published writings (albeit editorials, not poetry) appeared in the Portland Press Herald. Unfortunately, the similarity drops off pretty quickly after that. There will never be guided tours of my childhood home, nor plaster busts of me in some kind of historical museum. But that’s all right with me.

However, I did want to include a masterful poem of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in my commentary today. He’s the man who at least shares my birthplace. You see, I think that he really understood the “pulse” of our nation during one of its darkest periods of history—the American Civil War. Officially published in 1865 (although written two years earlier), “Christmas Bells” has a profound message to all of mankind that I think transcends the time period in which it was written.

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!”

     Ironically, on the night when Christ was born, it was anything but peaceful. The whole idea of a “silent night” was definitely more of a metaphysical expression. Obviously, the Roman Empire had entrenched its oppressive forces in Israel since 63 B.C., leaving Israel occupied and amid constant internal and external conflicts. Insurrections, both politically and religiously motivated, were never too far away. Hate was strong.

     Perhaps, that explains the strange audience for whom the angelic host appeared. Shepherds, you see, were generally neither political, nor religious, in nature. Frankly, they were somewhat looked down upon by those two groups. Simply stated, they were the working-class poor of their day.

     Here’s the point that I want to make: Christ’s birth, and those first witnesses to it, were not randomly selected. Amid the sounds of an embittered nation, the “bells” were still ringing! God chose the specific atmosphere, and the specific audience, to “unwrap” this greatest Christmas gift! He still does.

     Friends, like the poet Longfellow, we must look past the hate and wrong of our present condition. God is not dead, nor doth He sleep! It is when we realize the magnitude of what God did on that first Christmas Day, that we hear those same “bells”–the very sounds of heaven–calling us to faith and worship! The wrong shall fail, and the right shall prevail!   Merry Christmas!