I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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David Bahn-Reflections Podcast


Luke 2:8-18

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

Winter Rose Poinsettia | Cypress, TX | December 2022

My grandchildren (and their mother), when they visit us at St. John, love to ring the bell. It used to be used every Sunday. We would ring it before worship and again during the service at the Lord’s prayer. It once served to call the community to worship, and as a signal that the service had progressed to the point of the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s not clear whether the bells in this song were specially used on Christmas Day. But ring they did, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard them. You may know the story of the Song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it flowed from his real life experiences around Christmas. The story is recorded on the Gospel Coalition website, part of which reads:

On Friday, December 25, 1863, Longfellow—as a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him that Christmas Day.

He heard the Christmas bells ringing in Cambridge and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook.

I love the way Longfellow embraced both the reality of life in a fallen world and the hope we have in Christ’s birth. Hate is strong. And while we live in relative peace, the people of Ukraine are feeling the brunt of war. Theirs is not a peaceful life. But true peace is more than an absence of war. For there are those who live in serene and peaceful settings whose hearts are troubled and restless. Peace is found in the heart of one who rests in the love of God. And that love is seen so very clearly in Jesus.

Somebody needs to send out the message. Bells need to ring. People need to hear. That’s why choirs sing his praises. Congregations join in the hymns and carols. Cantatas, concerts, and celebrations of many sorts point us toward Jesus.

Our hope and belief is that right shall prevail. The wrong shall fail. That’s why we must not stop and stay at the manger, but follow Jesus on to Calvary, and look with expectation to the life of the world to come. There will be perfect peace!

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

And the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on Earth)
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

But the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them? (Peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth)
(Peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men

Then 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 the bells, they’re ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on Earth)
And with our hearts, we’ll hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells, they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The light, the angels singing (peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Bernie Herms / Mark Hall / Dp
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day lyrics © Sony/atv Tree Publishing, Boosey And Hawkes Music Publishing Ltd., Banahama Tunes, St. Nicholas Music Inc., My Refuge Music, Travelin’ Zoo Music, Calougie Music, Shustmusic Llc, Word Music, Llc

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