Every Christmas Eve, before the kids go to bed, we listen to Mannheim Steamroller’s "Silent Night" as the last thing in the day. Usually I’ll say a little something about remember family far away, or about soldiers deployed during this time. It’s usually short.

However this year, with the Newtown shooting, and getting some inspiration from different sources, I wrote this up. It gives us some perspective; how good most of us have it, how much some people are hurting, and how much God has for all of us.

And I dare you not to cry when you hear the toy piano plink out "Silent Night".

Merry Christmas.

Doug

During the American Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s oldest son Charles Appleton Longfellow joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father’s blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. "I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer," he wrote. "I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good". Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia during the Mine Run Campaign. Coupled with the recent loss of his wife Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire, Longfellow was inspired to write "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”.

He first wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1863.

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.

Those two previous verses are not usually sung as part of the Christmas song because they are referring directly to the American Civil War. Still, the war added to all Longfellow’s other reasons for despairing. And tonight, there are many families who feel that same sense of despair. They have family members who have been killed in wars thousands of miles away in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have had children killed just down the street at their school in Newtown, Connecticut.

There are, and there will always be, people who ask you, “Where was your god? How could he allow these things to happen to good people, to innocent people?” I can imagine the same question being asked in Bethlehem, after Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt, and Herod ordered all boys under 2 be killed.

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.”

The answer to the question is, God is there, just like He always is, to be with us in our desperate times. Jesus wept when confronted with the death of Lazarus, even though He knew what He was going to do. But to really understand that answer, we have to rephrase the question. Where is God when I do evil things? Why doesn’t He stop me when I lie, cheat or steal? The answer is, because He has given me a choice, and in His love, He lets me choose. If I were forced to do the right thing every single time, if I were forced to love Him, it wouldn’t be love. It would be conformity, coercion; not love.

Those who ask the question, “Where was your god?” would not accept that coercion on themselves. And therefore, we cannot expect that coercion from God for anyone. He gives people the choice to make good decisions and bad ones. His own Son’s mere presence turned into a massacre of boys age 2 and younger in Bethlehem. Just as He wept at the death of Lazarus, He weeps now for those innocents killed. But also, just as He came to comfort those who mourned Lazarus, He is there to comfort those who have lost family members to a war and children to a mass murderer.

And even more than His promise to comfort those who mourn, is the promise that, even when bad things happen, all things God works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Ultimately, Longfellow’s poem ends on this very note; that all this is temporary. In spite of personal loss and tragedy, he takes the long view – God’s view – that even these things work together for good.

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.”

As we listen to “Silent Night”, let’s remember those who are away from home this Christmas, those who are missing loved ones that are no longer here to celebrate Christmas, and to be thankful for all of us that are here at this time of the year.

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