“Peace, Good Will Toward Men”

“Peace, Good Will Toward Men”

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ ” (Luke 2:8-14)

I haven’t been feeling the greatest, and I wondered what I would write about this week. I am thankful to my daughter Lydia who reminded me of the words to a Christmas song, which was originally a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow wrote this poem, entitled Christmas Bells, on Christmas day, 1863, during the Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history. Two years earlier, Longfellow’s wife tragically had been burned and died in a fire. The month before he wrote this poem, his son in the Union Army had been severely wounded.  Longfellow begins the poem hearing the bells on 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!” 

But then the poet remembers the war going on, the horrible carnage, death and destruction, and the cannons belching fire to the south of him.

“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!’ " 

Like Longfellow, it is easy to see all the wrong in the word and to despair. Hundreds of thousands of children at minimum are dying in Yemen and in other places. Countless lives have been destroyed in Syria. Murders and violence plague our own land. A third of Puerto Rico is still without power. I think of lines from the hymn, This is My Father’s World, which was a favorite of my Grandmother, Ruth Price.    

“This is my Father's world:
O let me ne'er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.”

In his poem, Longfellow moves to express the same hope:
“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!’ "

Where did Longfellow get this hope? As he knew, the full and complete gospel has to do not just with the birth of Christ, announced by the bells at Christmas, but also with the death, resurrection, and final victorious return of Christ. It is from the whole story of Christ that we learn and know that, as Longfellow wrote, the wrong shall fail and the right shall prevail.

Paul wrote similar words that summarize the same gospel, and George Frideric Handel put them to music in The Messiah:

“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:20-22)

God’s victory is sure and secure.
Hallelujah. Amen!


Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at wrjones2002@gmail.com
This column first appeared in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.

Comments

  1. Thank you Casey for reminding us that our earthly trials are merely a temporary condition and that total victory is ours through Christ Jesus. Your article made me think of the following from John Calvin's Commentary on Luke 2:10

    The commencement of solid joy is, to perceive the fatherly love of God toward us, which
    alone gives tranquility to our minds. And this “joy,” in which, Paul tells us, “the kingdom of God” consists, is “in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17.) By calling it great joy, he shows us, not only that we ought, above all things, to rejoice in the salvation brought us by Christ, but that this blessing is so great and boundless, as fully to compensate for all the pains, distresses, and anxieties of the present life. Let us learn to be so delighted with Christ alone, that the perception of his grace may overcome, and at length remove from us, all the distresses of the flesh.

    God grant us all His SOLID JOY!

    Merry Christmas
    Erik King

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