The Saddest Words in a Christmas Carol
By Dave Boehi
Christmas was not a happy time for him.
His country was embroiled in a war he hated, from which his son had returned home with severe wounds. He grieved deeply for his wife, who had died after a freak accident two years before.
And so on Christmas Day in 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called “Christmas Bells.”
The poem eventually inspired the hymn we know as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” and contains what may be the saddest words I’ve seen in a Christmas carol:
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, goodwill to men!”
Over the years, I’ve known married couples who have experienced the type of hardships that doom many relationships—financial difficulties, death of a child, debilitating disease.
One of these husbands was overwhelmed with the reality of raising a child with special needs and the pressure it was putting on his marriage. He said, “I remember praying in the midst of my tears, Lord, I have nothing to believe in if I can’t believe You are good and You are sovereign. I’m not sure I feel that, but if it’s not true, then what’s life about? I am going to choose to believe that You would not allow anything but good to come into my life.”
Until Jesus returns, we will never see the type of “peace on earth” that so many long for, because the planet and the people contained therein have not been fully restored—brokenness and its consequences still remain. In fact, Jesus Himself guaranteed it: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV, emphasis added).
But we can experience peace in our hearts when we put our trust in the God who engineered the universe. Longfellow’s dark cloud began to lift when he chose to focus on the fact that God is alive, in control, and has a bigger plan than we can understand. I think that’s the kind of peace he finally experienced and described on that December morning in 1863:
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, goodwill to men!”
The good stuff: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Action points: In what areas of life do you struggle to find peace? Make a list of your concerns/fears and talk them over with your spouse. Are there any practical things you can do to ease your stress or improve the situation? For the things that are out of your control, pray with your spouse about surrendering them to God. Don’t be discouraged if you find you need to pray the same prayer many times—even daily.
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