Wishes of Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

12-24-14-pub-notes.gifHaving had surgery recently, I’ve spent much of the past two weeks being still, which is very unuusual for me. During this time, I‘ve had time to catch up on news — other than that happening in Fayetteville. And what I have seen has made me sad.

Religious fanatics with murderous intent are running rampant in the Middle East and throughout the world. Russia is reemerging as a threat to democracy with encroachments in Georgia and the Ukraine. North Koreans are jailed or killed for watching television. In Africa, school girls are raped and sold into hellish marriages because they are Christian and in Pakistan, children are shot dead — just because.

And that doesn’t even begin to address the problems in America. Racial tensions are ripping through the fabric of our democracy. Racial riots are only tempered by unity marches, where I’m really not sure the message is unity. A young woman is burned alive, while young teens shoot each other down in the streets for nothing more than “street cred.” It’s enough to make you lose heart, even lose faith.

Thinking about the evil that is pervasive in our world, I thought back to one of my early political memories. It dates back to the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Carter, who was facing Christmas with the hostages still in Iran and the end of his presidency drawing near, gave a press conference. To be sure, Carter didn’t have a lot to be hopeful for at the time, and from the start of his press conference, that was pretty obvious as he also bemoaned the evil in the world. As a child, I found it very depressing, but then something changed, and he finished his speech not with a voice of doom, but rather with one of hope. And that message has stayed with me. It has impacted my life many times over the years when I have begun to lose faith in my fellow man. It was the story of a simple Christmas carol, and I feel it only fitting that I share it with you now.

Written by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863, this carol’s genesis came from the death of Longfellow’s wife in an accidental house fire coupled with his son’s (Charles Appleton Longfellow) decision to run away and join the Union Army in March of that year. As Christmas drew near, the elder Longfellow received word that his son had been gravely injured in the Virginia Battle of New Hope Church.

Looking at the world around him and the tragedy that made up his life, Longfellow could have lost hope. Instead, he turned to his art to try and make some sense of the evil around him, and he penned this carol that has continued to encourage and remind us that all is not lost.

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.”

This blessed Christmas season, I wish you peace, but more importantly I wish you hope. Merry Christmas!

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