By Dawn Wilson
I don’t hear Christmas bells where I live now in California; but I’m from the Midwest where church steeples jut up in the landscape like lupine plants. I have sweet memories of church bells peeling out each Sunday and on Easter and Christmas.
The church bells called us to worship, and they filled my heart with joy and hope. They helped me focus on eternal values when I felt so overwhelmed by earthly struggles. One year in particular, when I felt betrayed and alone, the bells called me to remember God’s great faithfulness.
An old Christmas carol by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow still has meaning for our day. “I heard the bells on Christmas day,” Longfellow wrote, “their old familiar carols play.”
We’ve sung carols since childhood; perhaps it’s too easy to recite them mindlessly and lose their truth.
Longfellow wrote the song at Christmas in 1863 as he nursed his son—wounded in the Civil War during the Battle of Chancellorsville—back to health. Its original title was “Christmas Bells.” Longfellow wrote it as a song of praise, thanking God for his son’s survival in the midst of so much chaos.
This year, as I look around at the economic upheaval, broken relationships, crime, corruption, and wars everywhere, I have to admit that my heart is a bit agitated. There’s often anxiety in my heart instead of God’s sweet peace. And it’s not just me. Friends who have lost jobs fight despair, and a spirit of hopelessness colors their days. Another family is facing a difficult and devastating trial with their adult son. Others count the days until their loved ones in the military return from the Middle East.
As Longfellow wrote, “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.”
Where is the answer for times like these? Our hope is in God (Psalm 71:5; 1 Peter 1:21) and His Word (Romans 15:4), not people or circumstances. Verse four of Longfellow’s song offers the reason for our hope:
“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.”
In other words, God reigns. He is still in control (1 Chronicles 29:11-13; Psalm 47:7-8; 115:3; Isaiah 46:9-11) no matter how desperate we feel. Hope and wisdom come when we look at life from that perspective—His perspective. I recently told a group of women, HOPE stands for “His Overcoming Perspective Everyday.”
God will not disappoint us (Romans 5:5). Though we may not understand His purpose in our immediate circumstances, God has plans to give us hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
During this Christmas season, we need to pull away from the busyness of holiday preparations to find a quiet place and meditate on God’s faithfulness in His presence. As a pastor friend, Bill Elliff, says, “Everything flows from the presence of God.” Everything. Everything we need—including hope and peace.
Though we cannot help but see our circumstances, we must believe and focus on what God’s Word says.
The scriptures promise that there is coming a day of true, lasting peace, because the Prince of Peace will return (Isaiah 9:6; John 14:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). His righteous rule will change everything.
In the meantime, we have the presence, power, and perspective of God to guide us. We have hope in this world and hope for all eternity (Titus 2:13). Whether or not you hear church bells this holiday season, I pray you experience the hope of Jesus in your life.
Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent Reigns! (Revelation 19:6b).
Enjoy this Christmas music provided by the Hand Bell choir directed by Joe Moore, Minister of Music at First Baptist Church, East Point, Georgia:
Also enjoy this beautiful hand bell solo: How Great Thou Art ( Arr. E. A. Edgren) by Song JaeWeoul of the Daejeon Handbell Choir, in South Korea. I was unable to embed it, but do click the link as it’s lovely to listen to!
Article by Dawn Wilson. Dawn is the director of Heart Choices Ministries, and writes Heart Choices Today. She co-authored with Pam Farrel LOL with God: Devotional Messages of Hope & Humor for Women (Focus on the Family) and posts regularly at LOL with God. Dawn also works with NEWIM—Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry, and writes for the Christian Examiner.