Devotional Thoughts

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Contemporary Reflections

In the economy of God life is different than we would plan, for good and bad often travel together.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the great American poet, tasted this one December and wrote about it in “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”


It was Christmas, 1863.

We know what was raging in our country: brother taking up arms against brother; one region of our nation in pitched battle against another region. It was a struggle for the soul of our culture, for the future of our country.

There are other names for it; the most common is simply The Civil War. [1]


Church bells were big back then. The building was often used for civic and social gatherings, as well as for worship. Perched in the bell tower was a kind of timepiece for the community.

Morning, noon, and night were marked by its ring.

Significant events were announced: the bell tolled at a funeral, at Sunday go-to-meetin’ time, and at seasons of the year.


It was the bells on that Christmas day that struck Longfellow. He knew this holiday was in celebration of the Prince of Peace, yet everywhere…carnage.

The Civil War would claim 620,000 lives! In December of 1863, it had been raging for 2½ years, and had a year-and-a-half still to go. But they didn’t know that; there was no end in sight.

Can you feel the tension in Longfellow’s heart: “Peace on earth, good will to men” yet “Hate is strong and mocks the song”?


Some concerns plague our day: the safety of our children and grandchildren; the fate of liberty. We can surrender to fear yet…is there not a God Who has spoken?

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17b)
“Peace I leave with you.” (John 14:27)
“I will be with you.” (Joshua 1:5; Isaiah 43:2, and many other places)
“I will never leave you.” (Hebrews 13:5)


Can you see the contrast this Christmas?: perversion, darkness, fraud………peace, rest, joy.

The Apostle Paul shared hope with the Corinthians amidst all their failures and frailties:

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)


There’s no escaping this world, yet we are not alone: the Creator of the Universe has spoken to us through His Word, has come to us by His Son, and deigns to live within us by His Spirit.

The angel Gabriel reassured Mary: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)


A different millennium. Different continent. Different language. Same God!

The angel said to Joseph, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Good and bad still travel together, but the only union that really matters is Christ in us…so that “ringing, singing on [our] way” we proclaim the hope of the world: the Savior has come.

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, with joy we worship You this Christmas season. May many turn from darkness and repent of their sin, finding forgiveness and a new life in You. Give us eyes to see your hand at work even in the hard times. In Your Name, Amen.


[1] The Civil War raged from April 12, 1861 – April 9, 1865.