God is not dead nor doth he sleep (a #TBT post)

No one remembers – or is alive who remembers – if it was cold in New England on Christmas Day in 1863, but the country itself was in the cold grip of the Civil War. Long years of war had taken its toll on homes both Union and Confederate. This Christmas, sons were at war or imprisoned or dead or injured or ill.

Henry’s son, Charley, had been one of the injured and the ill, surviving both a bout of malaria and a bullet wound in the back.  A single father of five who lost his wife when her clothes accidentally caught fire a few years earlier, Henry had been heartbroken but resigned when Charley ran away to join the Union Army.

“I shall not send for him,” Henry wrote in his journal. “He is where he wants to be, in the midst of it all.”

Nonetheless, he crossed through army lines to reach to his son’s bedside when he  was wounded in late November 1863 and brought him home.

Henry may have recalled the pain not only of his own grief and concern, but also that of a nation when he penned his poem, Christmas Bells on that Christmas Day.

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!”

Henry was famed American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Years later, two stanzas were removed from his poem as it was set to music and became the carol we know as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

The carol first came to mind when evil walked into a shopping mall in Oregon, killing two people. It played loudly through my mind on Friday when evil walked into a Connecticut elementary school.

For some time, I was stuck on the line about hate being strong and mocking the song of peace on earth.

Then, I remembered the triumphant final stanza. God is not dead. He’s not sleeping. Wrong will fail. Right will prevail. There will be peace on earth.

Longfellow saw that. His son recovered from his wounds. A long-awaited peace finally came after years of war.

But he didn’t see it right away. He didn’t know it when he put pen to paper that Christmas morning.

We don’t see it either. We don’t know why things happen as they do. We just mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.

And God’s not dead. He’s not sleeping.

In that we place our hope as Christmas comes.

These Throwback Thursday (#TBT) posts are some of my favorites from previous blogs presented here with only the slightest editing. This post originally appeared on an older blog on December 20, 2012.

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