Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Peace on earth...goodwill to all men

As we have walked along our journey in the discovery of how some of our Christmas traditions came to be, we have discovered a few things about the songs we sing this holiday time. One such song caught my attention this morning, not really understanding the significance of it until I read when it was penned. The song? "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" by Henry W. Longfellow and John B. Calkin. To most of us, this song is a little light and pretty, but it was the entirety of the song that I had not heard until I did my deeper dive into the lyrics. You see, most of the time, the song is sung without two very important stanzas! The song was written right in the heart of the American Civil War. Having traveled to some of the states engaged in this great battle, the history of the War was brought alive as I toured great battlegrounds, explored historical homes and plantations, and just listened to the storytellers as they recounted the history of this period. The song was first written as a poem by Longfellow, set to music by Joseph Mainzer, and the tune later changed by composer John B. Calkin.  It was meant to be a hymn - but has become a song we associate with the "joy" of Christmas, rather than the despair of wartime.  It continues to amaze me how much we "clean up" things to appear one way when they were actually intended to convey a meaning much different than what we want to portray.  We do it in the words of a song, but also in the "play-acting" of a life not willing to be transparent and real!

Don’t think that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came to bring trouble, not peace.  I came to turn sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. Your worst enemies will be in your own family. If you love your father or mother or even your sons and daughters more than me, you are not fit to be my disciples.  And unless you are willing to take up your cross and come with me, you are not fit to be my disciples.  If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it. (Matthew 10:34-39 CEV)

The words of the song?  They go like this:
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.

I thought how as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll'd along th' unbroken song
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair, I bow'd 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 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 hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
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."

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with Peace on earth, good will to men...these are the words I would like us to focus on for just a moment this morning.  Peace came in the person of Christ - it was a person, not just a state of mind.  Peace came to reside with us, in us, and around us.  In discussing what he expected of his disciples, one thing became quite clear no matter which account you examine - our lives are not going to set well with some!  Some will find fault with our way of serving our Master.  Some will not like the conviction they feel when we live out the testimony of Christ's peace within.  One thing we can count on is the truth that wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with PEACE on earth, all which can come is good will to ALL men.

Peace has cost men and women something from the beginning of all time.  Lives have been given in the pursuit of peace on earth, haven't they?  They continue to be lost today.  All because we cannot pursue peace as long as WE want to be the ones controlling how life is lived. When men get their "undies in a wad" it is usually because one or another is feeling like they are slighted in some sense, or they might just feel a little superior to another by nature of their position, upbringing, or stance in life.  Regardless of the reason behind conflict, there is this general underlying theme of no peace - unrest is sure.

What our songwriter wanted us to hear is the truth of how "loud" peace can actually be! Peace is not the absence of differences - it is the acceptance of them.  Peace is not the cessation of movement - it is the movement in a similar direction.  Peace is not the state of mind which is lulled to sleep - it is the state of mind which comes from thoughts centered on Christ.  Peace came in a person - Christ.  Peace is lived out in people - you and I.  

Christ said to his disciples that the world would be at odds with us.  Why?  They cannot reconcile their actions with the purity of Christ that dwells within us.  When we become transparent about his actions in our lives, it brings conviction into the hearts and minds of others around us.  It is like the "canons" just cannot stop firing - like the earth would quake under the thunderous roar of their accusations and taunts.  Why?  Conviction is uncomfortable.  Conviction requires action and some of us aren't ready to take the steps toward the right actions yet!  

Peace on earth, good will to men.  God is not dead, nor does he sleep.  The next time you are sensing the great battle of good versus evil in your life or those around you, remember this one simple thought of our song today - God is not dead, nor does he sleep.  He is in full control.  All he asks of us is the faithfulness to speak of the Peace which dwells within.  In turn, he will reveal the truth through us to a lost and hurting world.  Just sayin!

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