*The following is part of a series called “A Changed Perspective” to challenge the way in which we view the world, culture, people, and places from a biblical perspective. Undoubtedly, for Christ followers to live in the world but not be of the world is a challenging task, but with humble spirits, teachable hearts, the Word of God, and His Spirit that lives within to guide and lead us, He allows us to be part of His redemptive work in the world around us.
The dawn of a new year. I wouldn’t say that I’m much for New Year’s celebrations, nor traditions. I can’t remember the last time I actually stayed up late enough to watch the ball drop. I always chuckle (and get a bit annoyed) at the sudden surge of people at the YMCA the first of the year. “Just give it two weeks,” I think to myself, “and things will die down.” And they most certainly do! But one thing I do appreciate about the new year is the calendar invite to stop, look back, reflect, and give prayerful consideration to the year that lies ahead. What were the joys of 2019? The challenges? What made me cry? Laugh? And what about 2020? What would I like to ensure to do again and what are those things I want to do differently? What dreams and aspirations do I have and how might I seek these out? The new year provides a rhythmic reminder for this beautiful thing called life, which fully encompasses the good, the bad, the monotonous, the sad, and dare I say, the absolute gut-wrenching terrible.
My wife recently shared a story with me that I had never heard about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. One day, while Henry was taking a nap, his wife’s dress caught on fire. Though he tried everything to extinguish the flames, to no avail, she had been so badly burned that she died the next morning. Not only so, but Henry also was severely burned and wasn’t able to attend his wife’s funeral because of his injuries. Now a widower of six children, less than two years later, his eldest son, Charles, left the house unbeknownst to him to join the Union army to fight in the Civil War. Charles engaged in battle, but was forced to miss the Battle of Gettysburg as he had come down with typhoid. Upon his recovery, he would engage in battle yet again, but this time he was shot through the shoulder. Henry received a telegram that his son had been shot and was severely wounded. Heading directly to Washington, D.C. in December of 1863, Henry was told that the wound was very serious and could leave his son paralyzed. Thankfully, the bullet had missed the spine, but his recovery would be very long and slow. On Christmas Day, in much despair and long-suffering, he was assaulted by the hearing of Christmas bells and the singing of “peace on earth.” Challenged to hope, even in the darkest of hours, Longfellow’s perspective changed, leading him to pen the words, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–1882)
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.
I 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.
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.”
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!
As I reflect on 2019, while undoubtedly there was much joy and laughter, there has also been much pain in my life and the lives of those around me. My heart is saddened to think of the sweet little 6th grader who recently told me that she has no home and that for the time being her family is living in a hotel. Or perhaps it is the father of two young children who just weeks ago lost his wife to a vicious battle with cancer. I think of my own father in his 20 year battle with dementia. Losing him slowly has been hard, but I can only imagine how difficult this must be for my mother, to watch your best friend and beloved slowly slip away. It doesn’t take long to be overcome by the onslaught of brokenness and despair all around us. Though my suffering is not nearly as entrenched as Longfellow’s, so does my heart identify with his words, “There is no peace on earth, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth.” But thanks be to God for the hope we find in Him and the promise of His word:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:1, 3).
Longfellow continues, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.” For undoubtedly the day will come when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4).
As we look to a new year, I am challenged to consider the way in which I view the world and the hardships that are sure to come upon us. Will I wallow in my pity and loath this life I have been given, or will I embrace a perspective of triumphant hope through Christ, for God is not dead and one day death and mourning and pain shall be no more. Perhaps you will join me, to pen the hope we have through Him with the lives we have been given.
Lastly, allow me to share a very special gift with you, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, sung by our dear friend, Wanida Maertz. As God spoke to me through these words, so I hope He will speak to you! Click Here
May you have a very blessed New Year!