Can Christmas Carols Save Our Hope For Christmas?

The bells will be ringing, but will this year be a Christmas we all have the blues? Two nights ago my throat started to feel a little sore. Any other year I am not sure I would even register this annoying sensation, but not with Covid still decimating December. My hope of a happy Christmas seemed to be crashing all around me. I leaned over to April and told her my fears of having to spend Christmas alone, quarantined from my family. Now, as I write this, I am fine, but the fear of missing out on family time was real. I know missing family time is the reality that many people are facing. Families are stuck at home, separated from loved ones. Hope seems to be in short supply.

A quarantine Christmas comes at the end of a not so tender year. We’ve been torn apart Chaos and closed cafes have lead to hate. Hate is strong and it is telling us to give in to despair. Yet, Christmas time is coming! This advent season many churches lit their hope candles, but I am sure to many the candle’s flame seems to be flickering out. However, God is stronger than hate and he is still working.

I know that God is stronger than hate because of Christmas music. You know, jingle bells, deck them halls, and all that stuff. There is just so much joy and hope in the songs we listen to once a year. This fact hit me about ten years ago when I started enjoying Christmas music. I think it was the Blue Grass Christmas station on pandora (I can’t remember for sure, but I wrote about it here and I even included a list of my favorite songs), it just makes me dance, and John Gorka’s “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” which is the Christmas Carol of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Christmas Bells.

In 1861 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lost his wife to a tragic fire. Then his son died while fighting for the Union in the Civil War. He sunk in despair and was stung when he heard the bells on Christmas Day. I am sure he wanted God to tell him why he had lost his wife and son and why our nation was at war. So many people were dying and I am sure his world felt out of control, maybe a little like how our world feels. Yet, he did not end in despair.

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.”

If he can still find hope when all seems lost, so can we. In Longfellow’s isolation and pain, God showed up. This poem is so relevant now. Our world is a mess. Hate is strong, but it cannot outshine God’s love for us. He is working in this mess and He will redeem it. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail because the best is yet to come. Our God turns gravestones into gardens.

God has promised to come and heal the brokenhearted and I know he will. God is a promise keeper and no matter my health, my hope will be in Him. I hope that as we wait for Christmas during the last week of advent, you feel God’s love and you know that the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, and God will bring peace on earth, good-will to men. The bells will be ringing the sound of hope again!

I’ll be home for Christmas

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells,” which is used in the song above, while he was grieving the fact that his nation was at war.  He was lonely on Christmas because his son had left to fight in the Civil War.  Loneliness around Christmas time is a pain that mocks the song, peace on earth and good will to men.  Christmas would have been extremely difficult for me if I hadn’t been able to see my dad open his Tim Tebow jersey or my mom unwrap her new cook wear.  It’s nice to think about peace on earth and good will to men, but my selfish desire was to be home.  Unfortunately I didn’t make it home.  I decided to stay in Guatemala so I could go to Hawaii this summer with my family, but it meant my first Christmas away from my family.  But Christmas Eve, as the old familiar carols played, it was very difficult.  Mostly because those carols were in spanish, but also because they made me think of home.

Every year of my life, as far as I know, I’ve spent every Christmas Eve helping my dad out at church.  If you define the word help by fighting with Katie, my older sister, in front of 1,000 people, or dropping the lighter as I tried to light the Christ candle, setting the sanctuary carpet on fire.  But this year I celebrated Christmas Eve Spanish style, with the sermon and carols in Spanish.  I know all of the Christmas carols by heart, but it was dang near impossible to sing in English while everyone else was singing in Spanish.  I forced myself to try to sing with them, but wild and sweet the words repeated with more of a fra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra! (At least I wasn’t being forced to eat Chinese food like Ralphie) Yet as I heard the bells on Christmas Eve I thought how, as the night had come, there were fireworks to be lit.  The blasts were strong and the colors bright.  Then peeled the bombs more loud and clear.  It was midnight and the birth of Christ had come.

As weird as it may seem, I woke up on Christmas morning with the lyrics I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams in my head.  Maybe in my dreams I had been able to make it home for Christmas.  Instead I woke up in my bed in Guatemala.  At 7:30 am on Christmas morning, I’ve never been one to sleep in on Christmas day, a cold fog still weighed itself over Xela.  It made it seem a little like a white Christmas.  It was cold so I hopped back in bed and waited for my parents to Skype me.

8 came and went and as great of an invention as Skype is, it still takes two to tango.  Fortunately gmail has a nifty little call function that allows me to make free calls to the states.  I called up my dad on his cellphone.  He answered with a sound of shock in his voice and immediately hopped on Skype.  I was able to be home for Christmas via modern technology.  I enjoyed watching Emmy, my sister, open up my gift for her.  While we were shopping in Antigua, she eyed a coffee bag purse.  I knew she wanted to buy it for herself so I had to convince her it was hideous.  It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.  Try convincing a fashionista something they think is cool is fopa. Ha! What do I really know about style.  But she listened to me and was pleasantly surprised when she unwrapped her gift.  It was very special.  It’s beautiful how something as simple as giving a gift can bring to mind peace on earth.

I was blessed to Skype with my family and spend the day with friends that I have made down here.  If everyone can spend Christmas being reminded they are loved, the wrong shall fail and the right prevail and we’ll all be home for Christmas.