I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day


I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play;
In music sweet the tones repeat,
“There’s peace on earth, good will to men.”
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’ unbroken song
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 does He sleep,
For Christ is here; His Spirit near
Brings peace on earth, good will to men.”
*When men repent and turn from sin
The Prince of Peace then enters in,
And grace imparts within their hearts
His peace on earth, good will to men.
O souls amid earth’s busy strife,
The Word of God is light and life;
Oh, hear His voice, make Him your choice,
Hail peace on earth, good will to men.
Then happy, singing on your way,
Your world will change from night to day;
Your heart will feel the message real,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with alterations and *additional text by Harlan D. Sorrell.

Some Christmas Carols are the joyous outpouring of Christmas cheer, filled with the laughter of wonder of the season.  Others are forged in pain and doubt that has been turned to the light of hope and renewal.  Such is the story behind this hymn. http://suvcw.org/mollus/art005.ht

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The famous American poet, H. W. Longfellow had lost his wife in a tragic fire just three years before he nearly lost his son in the horrors of the Civil War.  When his son was severely wounded in battle, Longfellow went to the military hospital, and, when he could, he transported his son home, knowing the journey would be painful and the outcome might not be a happy one.  (His son lived, but never recovered fully– see the article above.)
As he sat with his wounded son over the Christmas season, he could hear the bustle and chatter, and the bells ringing from the church steeples, announcing the good news of Christmas.  As his pain and bitterness churned, he wrote about it, and about how his heart was turned from bitterness to hope. (See the original poem here:   https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Poetry/christmas_bells.htm

Photo of C. A. Longfellow

Christmas is a time of warmth and good cheer for many–the ringing of bells, the singing of merry tunes, the tinsel and glitter of decorations–but for others, it is a time of deep soul-searching.  “My life is a mess.  I have suffered greatly.  There is no Peace On Earth!”  Yet, the hope and promise of Christmas rings out greater than the darkness and the blast of gunfire, the angry outcries and the weeping of those in grief.

How can this be?

Christmas reminds us that our circumstances, though very real and very painful, are confined to this time and space.  They are temporary– not in the sense that we will forget our pain or loss– but that we can still experience hope and joy  and healing in their midst.  “The Wrong shall fail”–there will still be evil in the world, injustice, hunger, abuse, sickness–wrong will still exist, but it does not have the power to define us, to enslave us and take away our ability to do good.  “The Right, prevail”–God’s promise of Messiah (among several hundred other prophetic promises!) has been fulfilled.  God is Faithful.  God’s word endures.  God’s Justice Will Be Done, and there will be “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.”

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Christmas also reminds us that it is just in those very small things– the tolling of bells, being able to hug your child,  to share memories of loved ones who are no longer here, being grateful for small gifts, giving a word of encouragement–that hope and joy are spread like ripples of water and echoes of sound.  Christ’s birth was humble, but it was heralded with the hosts of angels from the highest heavens. 

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My prayer today is that we would listen for the true message of Christmas, and that we would echo and repeat the message– even if it seems that we are being drowned out by sirens and protests, or silenced by those who are hurting and cannot hear the sweetness in the music of the season.

More Important

Everything I thought I wanted
Was more important than
Spending time in prayer that day.

The noise of the radio in the background;
The daydreams and worries in my head-
Drowned out
That still small voice.

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As the day passed by
My thoughts and actions
Turned…
Your presence
Nowhere to be found.
My worries and fears
Cancelling out
Faith.
UNTIL– I saw Your power in someone else’s life, giving ever increasing
Faith;
Cancelling out
My worries and fears–
(Nowhere to be found).
Your presence
Turned
My thoughts and actions
As the day passed by.

That still small voice
Drowned out
The daydreams and worries in my head;
The noise of the radio in the background.

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Spending time in prayer that day
Was more important than
Everything I thought I wanted.

I-Bug

It started out small– a glItch, really.
Every tIme I began to type, the same thIng would happen.
At fIrst, I barely notIced.

After all, It wasn’t lIke I couldn’t read my own wrItIng.
It wasn’t In every lIne or word;
It was a sIngle letter.

But then It began to spread.
As tIME passed, It becaME more dIffIcult.
I notIced a theME.  I could stIll read the words,
But theIr MEaning was gettIng lost In
SoME way I couldn’t quIte deterMINE.

It was begInnIng to spIll Into MY speech;
IMpossIble to MEnd; MEldIng Into MY mInd’s
NIches, MErgIng wIth MEdIocre comMEnts
And MYsterIous MEltdowns.

I I I I I,

ME ME ME ME ME.

As I and ME took over, yo_ went mIssIng.
ThIngs were s_ddenly less peacef_l…
Even Jes_s seemed sIlent In the dIn of ME and MINE.
SIn and prIde– I co_ld always be fo_nd there.

It was a fast-spreadIng vIr_s– s_rely leadIng to MY r_In:
_ntIl I lIstened to a stIll, small whIsper…
A Holy breath of fresh, clean, wholesome change.

AAAHHH!

Exhaling the I’s and ME’s, and breathing in YOU–
Brought hope and healing; renewal,
Perspective and life.

How Great Thou Art

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee; How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

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Clouds dot the cerulean sky,
A gentle breeze whispers,
And flowers nod as I walk
A country path.
Then sings my soul.

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Trees bow and rain coils,
Gales roar and city streets
Shiver as I wait
In sheltered awe.
Then sings my soul.

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A newborn nestles in my arms
Making sucking noises
In its slumber,
As arms and legs
Learn to measure open space.
Then sings my soul.

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Families gather in black
Murmuring comfort
In somber tones
As they learn to
Measure the empty space.
Then sings my soul.

How Great Thou Art!
How awesome in power!
How glorious your Creation!
How mysterious your ways!
How lavish in Life,
And triumphant over Death!

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My souls sings;
Sometimes sweet and low,
And sometimes keening.
My soul dances;
It reels and skips and sways.
My soul cries and laughs and trills.
But always, it says,
“How Great Thou Art!”

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Two Women

Based on Proverbs 9

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“Let all who are simple come in here.”

Two women, so alike in some ways–
Both attractive and energetic,
Both young and vivacious.

But

One has prepared a table; the other has prepared her bed,
One talks of virtue and honor; the other whispers secrets.
One requires commitment; the other promises no strings.
To enter either door is to be changed.

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A man entered the door of the wise woman.
He was simple, uncomplicated, straightforward;
A man of few words, but noble heart.
He ate at her table, put his boots outside the door–
Carried her over the threshold.
Time passed, children came.
They added on to the house.
Put in a garden; got a dog.
Others took note.
There were gatherings–
Holidays, barbecues, reunions.
The house was a home.
He never looked back.

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Years later, the man died.
His neighbors and family all spoke
Of his honesty, integrity, and wisdom.
His wife mourned, and was comforted.
He was the father of three,
The grandfather of seventeen.

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Another man entered the door of the foolish woman.
He was simple, uncomplicated, straightforward;
A man of few words, but a yearning heart.
He ate her food and drank her wine; slept in her bed–
Wallowed in her perfumed sheets.
He laughed at her coarse jokes,
Reveled in her cat-fights with the other girls,
And the stares of other men.
He bought her jewelry.  She bought him a car.
They lived the dream: parties and vacations;
Dancing ’til dawn and no responsibilities.
They forgot to pay the bills; they wrecked the car.
Others took note and shook their heads.
She moved in with someone else.
He moved into a hotel.
There were other women
And other hotels.
There were neighbors, friends–
Cars, jobs, maybe even children
Along the way.
But he was never the same.

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Years later, the man died.
His neighbors and friends
Spoke of the loss
In passing or over a beer.
The woman didn’t hear of his passing.
When someone brought up his name,
She said, “Such a simple, stupid man.
I wonder what ever happened to him.”

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“Let all who are simple come in here.”

 

 

The Birds of the Air Have Fled…

The air is different.
Cooler
Scented with readiness…
Waiting

The birds are restless of wing;
Apples hang heavy
As people and days
Move a little faster.

Anticipating the season;
Bringing in the harvest
Preparing to face
The cold gray of winter.

This short burst of color–
This cacophony of bird chatter
And swinging scythes–
Will give way to moaning winds
And skeletal branches reaching out
To empty skies.

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Autumn is coming– you can feel it in the air and start to see it on the trees here.  It’s coming on to “sweater” weather.  Football, the smell of vineyards heavy with grapes and orchards filled with apples and pears.  Gardeners and farmers are tripping over pumpkins and squash, and preparing to bring in the corn, wheat, and beans.  Squirrels are starting to zip about and look for nuts  and seeds to store.

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There is a sense of urgency about this time of year– the harvest is ready to bring in; it will not wait for a more convenient moment.  Preparations for the coming winter must be completed while the good weather holds.

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There is also a sense of completion and evaluation.  We look back at the summer with longing–did we make the most of sunny days and delayed sunsets?  Did we bring in a bumper crop?  And we look forward with a little anxiety– are we ready to weather the biting winds and bleak days ahead?

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God has given us seasons– where I live, there are dramatic changes from summer to autumn– in other regions, there are changes from rainy season to dry season.  Each change gives us time to pause and notice where we have been and where we are headed.

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The same is true in our personal lives– we go through seasons of change.  Children grow to adulthood; young parents become empty-nesters (eventually); hectic days at the office give way to days at the doctor’s office; bank accounts and circles of friends grow or shrink.

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In every season, we should give thanks– for health, youth, and wisdom, as well as trials that refine us, and discipline that shapes us.

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Where Am I?

Smack-dab in the center of Sin and Pride;
You could find me in Peril, Intrigue and Rebellion–
Guilt surrounded me, pain and despair held me fast.
But I was not in Repentance, Mercy, or Grace.

I had die to “I”– let it go and let the Son redeem the Sin
Trade Pride for Prayer, and Hype for Hope.

But I am no longer lost or dead– and no longer a slave to sin or pride.
I can now be found in Faith, and Charity;
I thrive in Fellowship, I have a Friend in Jesus,
A Spirit to guide me, and a vision for Eternity.
It is not “I” who lives, but “I AM” who lives in me.
Salvation, forgiveness, life, and victory are all mine;
Alive in Him, I am found in Christ– sanctified,
And never alone.

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Romans 8:1-5 King James Version (KJV)

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.

 

1 Corinthians 15:57 New International Version (NIV)

57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

  • A brief note about Scripture references and quotes:  I try to give scripture references and quotes in various translations, though I give most in the New International Version (NIV), the English Standard Version (ESV) or the King James or New King James versions (KJV or NKJV).  I don’t intend to cause confusion by doing this.  There are several excellent translations/versions available, and for a good comparison, there are several wonderful Bible study websites (two of my favorites are Bible Gateway and Bible Hub  ).  I simply find that there are some nuances that make for easier reading or use in the blog.  Often, one translation will have notes and cross references that are wonderful for further study, but confusing to include as part of the blog quote.  I encourage anyone to read the verses in whatever translation they have available, feel most comfortable using, or feel is most trustworthy.  I also welcome comments or corrections.

The Road to Hell…

I started down the boulevard,
Freshly paved, smooth and gleaming,
Its lanes clearly marked and a gentle rise
Toward a glorious horizon.

New construction sites caught my eye;
Here was progress– here was the future!
I drove on, excited in my new course,
Dreaming of destiny and fulfillment.

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Gradually, the scenery changed.
Construction gave way to abandoned projects:
Half-finished high-rises, silent storefronts,
Driveways leading nowhere, weedy parking lots.

Now the road, so smooth at the beginning,
Twisted and turned without purpose.
Gravel and broken pavement lined with
Abandoned cars and broken glass.

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Frightening thoughts intruded–
I had seen no open stores, no gas stations,
No houses, or other cars for miles.  I was alone.
There were no crossroads; no places to turn around.

The road that had begun with so much promise
Was now a rutted path going nowhere.

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I woke up in a cold sweat– it had been a dream.
More– it had been a warning.

I had “good intentions” for my journey.
But the easy road, the appearance of future success
Had lured me away from the path marked with suffering
And paved with ancient truths.

I had packed no maps, ignored the GPS, and trusted to “instinct”
To lead me, not to a fixed destination, but to “discovery.”

I drifted back to sleep, and dreamed that I was back at the beginning.
Roads branched out all around me.
The gleaming new boulevard no longer held any appeal.
But now I studied the other roads.

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There were so many; roads leading to “enlightenment”;
Roads offering “fame” and “immortality”;
Narrow paths promising “mysticism”;
Superhighways advertising “happiness.”

Off to the right, there was a tiny filling station–
The old fashioned kind, with a service man.
He offered to fill my tank, but then he said,
“They all end up in the same place, you know.”

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I looked up into his eyes–eyes that held in them
The wisdom of the ages and boundless love.
“Enter in at the narrow gate…”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
“This is the way, walk ye in it…”

He turned and walked through the back door
And I followed him down a sunlit path,
Up a small rise, and into glory.

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If Only I Had Known…

I would have taken the scenic route
Stopped to smell the new-mown grass,
Or the languid marshy odors
Drifting through the open window of my car.

I might have stopped off to see my old friend
Whose house I have passed a hundred times
On my way from somewhere to somewhere else–
Stayed awhile, relived memories or made new ones.

I would have let the others speak
Drinking in their words, tasting them, weighing their wisdom
And nodding, or not, let them take the spotlight a little longer
While I held my own cleverness in check.

I would have prayed with more reflection, and
Less impatience.  I would have used fewer words,
And chosen them with more care.  I would have shown
More gratitude and less “attitude.”
I would have cried more and sighed less.

I would have risked speaking up in those awkward moments:
“I didn’t mean that.”  “I’m glad to know you.”
“I’m so sorry.”  “I love you.”  “Please know that I love you.”
“You have an amazing smile.” “You are important.”
“God loves you with an everlasting, unshakable love!”

I would have watched more sunsets and fewer TV shows.
I would have written more stories and read fewer magazines.
I would have danced like no one was watching.
I would have sung like no one was listening.
I would have invited others to join me.

If I had known that I have five more years;
Or five more months, or five more decades…
Would I live differently?  Pray differently?
Love differently?  I hope so.  I just don’t know.

 

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