Friday, December 18, 2009

God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!



There is this little church girl inside of me who loves dressing up, singing carols and enjoying decorations at church during this time of year. My fondest memories of Christmas always revolve around church activities. The new dress, the recital, the Christmas fellowship. I cannot tell you all the joy I felt running through the hallways of Yucaipa Christian Church and knowing most of the faces I moved past. The church always looked fantastic: the huge trees that stood in our foyer were a highlight.

Singing carols as a congregation was spectacular. It's something I took for granted, there aren't many people out in the world that get together weekly to sing together. That's pretty unique to our subculture of Christianity. How we sang on Christmas Eve! The candles lit, the lights dim and everyone raising their voices to sing familiar carols of our newborn Savior. My favorite was "Fall on Your Knees". Once at home, my favorite version of the song came from Mr. Nat King Cole. The song seems more of a worship song than a tradition. It doesn't grow stale and the reverence for the Baby Jesus is resonant.

The first Christmas Cameron and I were married we bought a Christmas CD called Maybe this Christmas. It can only be described as a "somewhat indie" Christmas CD.  I listened to it constantly in my car to and from work. There are fun songs on it, but there is one song that sticks in my heart more than any other Christmas song. Preformed by none other than Pedro the Lion, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Eve" is my perfect Christmas carol.

This version is melancholy and drab. Very simply accompanied by piano & bells. It's very appropriate if you know the story of the song. The song started as a 7 stanza poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1864. Written about national tragedy (the Civil War) and personal devastation (his wife, Frances had died 3 years earlier from burns and his son had multiple problems with wounds sustained during the war)*.  The poem was first set to music in 1870 by John Baptiste Calkin. The version we typically hear was written in the 1950's by Johnny Marks (famous for "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer").

"I Heard the Bells" is not an often heard song. It doesn't exactly have the level of Christmas joy we are use to when singing during the season.  It's the story of a man torn apart by his wife's death and a nation coming apart at the seams. Oh, but the hope of the last stanza! It's a shining example of the hope of this season:
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!

No matter how dark our life is, even in the midst of Christmas, God is brighter. God is bigger. His love runs deeper.

This carol is a testament to the reality of Christmas. Our lives don't always match the light of Christ's birth. It's hard to force  Holiday-joy when you're losing your home, your spouse leaves you, or your kids are busy messing up their lives. This song is open about despair and the hope that follows. The light that shines no matter how dark we manage to get down here on our planet. We can have hope and light because God did send Jesus and we as human beings have a way out of our muck and mire.  The sound of His grace is always louder than our despair.

* To read more about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow go Here.*
"Christmas Bells"
(The original poem, complete with all seven stanzas)

"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!

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!"

1 comment:

Bonni said...

I love this song -- it was a favorite of mine any time of the year when I would sit down at the piano just to play. I always felt like I should play those last couple of phrases REALLY REALLY loud!

"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep! The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men!"

If that's not excited and exhuberant news in our real world, I don't know what is. :)