I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
DECEMBER 23, 2023
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!
Recommended Reading: Isaiah 9:6
In 1861, American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suffered a great personal loss—the death of his beloved second wife, Frances Appleton. After an accidental fire took her life, Longfellow found it difficult to write poetry. Two years later, during the height of the American Civil War, the poet experienced another form of anguish. His oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had joined the Union Army without his blessing, where he was greatly injured. It is said that Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells” on Christmas day 1863—in a desperate reflection to find some form of peace in the season that was upon him. That same poem is what the renowned carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is based upon.
First published in February of 1865, the poem references both the Civil War and the King James Version of Luke 2:14. But it wasn’t until 1872 that the poem was set to music by the Englishman John Calkin, to which it would later be recorded by Bing Crosby in 1956. To this day, multiple musicians and bands have recorded their own rendition of this beloved Christmas melody.
There is no higher calling at Christmas—even among our hopeless sorrows—than to be bearers of the same message the angels announced to the shepherds: a message of peace with God to those who will embrace His indescribable Christmas gifts of forgiveness and salvation.
We should extend goodwill to others at Christmas in a variety of ways—gifts, heartfelt hugs, hospitality, Christmas treats, and meals. But those gifts are just shadows compared to the gift of eternal hope and peace found through faith in Christ. As with any gift, we cannot control how well it is received or appreciated. But we can certainly tell others about this gift.
On this eve of Christmas Eve, focus on the hope of Christmas. Is there anyone your family can give the gift of Good News to— perhaps a newly widowed neighbor who is feeling extra hopeless this Christmas? Have each of your family members think of one person whom they can share our Lord and Savior with—it is the best present you can give.
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.