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"Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:16-18).
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 Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" is a Christmas Carol written 150 years ago by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote it for a church in Boston, MA during the cruel miseries of the Civil War but he also had his own personal cruel miseries. My cousin George Steincross, who is a retired minister, sent us an article about some additional details we do not recall reading before. The story is developed from a newsletter of a church he had pastored in Alabama.*
In the summer of 1861 - mere months after the Civil War began - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lost his wife Fanny in a tragic accident. One night while trimming their daughter’s hair by candlelight, a few drops of hot wax fell on her nightgown and ignited when a gust of wind came through the window.
Longfellow did his best to save her but she was burned too badly, and he ended up with severe burns on his face & hands. Longfellow, of course, was distraught. His trademark full beard was a direct result of his mourning, as he claimed he no longer had the energy to shave.
Christmas is hardest on the bereaved and Longfellow was no exception. On December 25, 1861, the first year without his wife, he wrote in his journal: “How inexpressibly sad are all the holidays.” Exactly one year, this is the entry: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.” On Christmas of 1863 his journal was left blank.
But then, on December 25, 1864 - mere months before the Civil war ended - Longfellow heard the bells on Christmas day and found peace. On that day he wrote this soul-stirring poem.
The beautiful chiming bells of Christmas reminded Longfellow that God was still in command and in His pre-ordained time He would cause the right to triumph. Our loving Father would bring the sounds of peace and good will to the hearts of men and women, boys and girls.
We associate Christmas with love, joy, and peace. but in the same Scriptural narrative concerning the birth of Christ there is the written record of widespread evil. We know the story but it's not a section of the Christmas narrative we tend to focus on. We might even prefer to skip over it since the backdrop seems to be unconducive to what we perceive as the proper setting for the Christ Child's arrival.
King Herod, in an effort to dispose of the Christ Child King, ordered his soldiers to kill "all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under" (Matthew 2:16). What a horrible slaughter this must have been. Herod was an evil man. I also consider the moral depravity of the soldiers in carrying out such an evil command. Even though we know Herod's motivation there is no reason to believe the inhabitants of Bethlehem did. Can you envision the terror of that night?
One can only imagine the inconsolable agony of all who resided in Bethlehem. Surely each family was affected, directly or indirectly. The act fulfilled an ancient prophecy by Jeremiah, "Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:17-18).
Deep grief and despair has always existed in the human experience since the original fall.
On Christmas Day, 1864, Henry Longfellow gave vent to his feelings in this plaintive carol that can only be understood against the backdrop of war. Two stanzas now omitted from most hymnals speak of the cannons thundering in the South and of hatred tearing apart "the hearth-stones of a continent." The poet drops his head in despair, but then he hears the ringing of Christmas bells. Their triumphant pealing reminds him that "God is not dead nor doth He sleep,"
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.”
We who believe in Christ still live in a fallen world with so much evil and unrest. As we see more and more of those who vehemently reject the Way of Christ (John 14:6, Acts 9:2) we see evil increase (see Matthew 24:12).
The peace of which the angels sang is not speaking of the external circumstances that surround us. Rather it is the peace that Christ imparts within our hearts when we know Him as Savior and Lord. The Prince of Peace reigning within our hearts is truly a gift from God that surpasses all other gifts. Won't you receive the Christ of Christmas today!
The song even seems to look forward prophetically to a time yet future for us:
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.
May the Lord enable us to hear the bells!
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, our hearts are heavy when we awaken each day with widespread evil, whether it's in our region of the world or in a distant land like Pakistan where over 100 innocent children were slaughtered by Islamic terrorists overnight. It could drive us to despair when we consider the continuous chipping away of Biblical morals and godly restraint sweeping across the globe. Additionally so many deal with these troubling situations through a politically correct lens instead of the black and white truth. The only lasting answer to our soul's diseases and widespread evil is provided for us in the arrival of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Though the majority reject Your answer for our sin problem, how grateful that Jesus still came, for He lives within the hearts of those who see their need and receive His forgiveness. In the midst of the prevailing darkness, like Longfellow, we declare that You are not dead and You do not sleep. Darkness is a temporary state, but Yours is an everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee, O God of light! Amen.
* In researching for this message online we note that there are some discrepancies regarding specific details among the various accounts. On the anniversary of the accident he wrote in his journal: “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”
Special Note: We want to thank all who have financially supported our ministry this past year. We typically see a spike in giving at the end of the year for which we are most thankful. We realize there are many fine ministries and causes requesting support at this time but if the Lord would lead you we surely need and appreciate the financial support from our readers and listeners. Our ministry (and support) is essentially comprised of half our time to Daily Encouragement and the other half to our chaplaincy ministry to companies (of course, this varies week by week). Each of these ministries essentially is the same as a part-time job for each of us (20+ hours weekly). Our goal for many years is that each phase would provide half of our ministry expenses and family income. You can donate by check, online or using PayPal. If you would like to make a donation see here for more information or donate directly online here. Thank you!
Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" Video Casting Crowns A very moving version of the song.
"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" Video Traditional version by Steven Curtis Chapman
"All Is Well" Video
The story behind "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" (Robert J. Morgan also tells the story in "Then Sings My Soul" Book 2)
Resources for Christmas Celebrations
(We will leave these resources posted below our daily messages through Christmas)
Each year we share several online resources that we have used over the years and that may be a blessing to families and churches during this Christmas season.
"In Remembrance of Me" pdf This is a passion-filled Scripture reading for two adults. Brooksyne and I have used this reading with great receptivity during Christmas Eve services over the years. We suggest, if possible, a musical background as the message is read. It is also a great lead-in to a Communion service. It should be thoroughly practiced and read with great feeling.
"When Christ Was Born" pdf This is an adaptation to the tune of "How Great Thou Art". It's a great song to sing as a congregation since most are familiar with and love the tune.
Responsive Christmas Scripture readings for church or family:
John 1:1-18 pdf
"O Come Let Us Adore Him" pdf
My First Christmas In Heaven This is a blessed reminder for all who lost a loved one this year. This is the poem that Brooksyne read and wrote about in this message.
Christmas Knowledge Test
We have also posted two Christmas carol quizzes here (scroll down).
Are you Christmas shopping online?
Daily Encouragement Net is an affiliate of Amazon. Any orders placed to Amazon using this link or any specific product link to a recommended resource in a message will help our Daily Encouragement ministry through a small commission on the sale. Thank you for considering using these links when purchasing online through Amazon! Tip: If you are a regular Amazon customer consider bookmarking this link and using it whenever you shop on Amazon.
Looking for a very special Christmas gift for your parents?
Here's an idea! "The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents"
Looking for a very special Christmas gift for your children?
Here's an idea! "The Blessing"
Stephen and Brooksyne Weber
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"We want to encourage you daily in your walk with Christ!"
Personal Ministry Update (Revised 12/10/14)
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Our other blogs:
"A Daily Prayer" - A blog simply posting the daily prayer. We keep this up each day since it's merely the prayer from the Daily Encouragement Net message!
"A Little Foolishness" - Humor/satire blog (a great outlet for non-serious writing but at times with a subtle message!) (Note: This material is satire!)
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"Hymns of Hope" - Brooksyne along with two friends made a CD using classic hymns. Brooksyne tells the background story of the 11 hymns. All of these songs are also available for download on the site.
Personal Mission Statement "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."
How to become a child of God
Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version. Other versions are also occasionally used.
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