“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is based on the poem “Christmas Bells”

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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!”

About “Christmas Bells”

“Christmas Bells” is a minor, yet well known, poem written by a very melancholy Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas morning in 1863 during the midst of the Civil War. It is an anti-slavery poem as well as a seasonal favorite.

The poem was written six months after the battle of Gettysburg where 40,000 soldiers lost their lives. In addition to despairing over the bloody war, Henry was also mourning the death of his beloved wife Fanny Appleton Longfellow. Fanny died in a tragic fire the same year that the Civil War broke out. In November of 1862, another personal tragedy added to his pain. His son, Union Lieutenant Charles Appleton, was wounded in the Army of the Potomac.

On Christmas morning in 1863, while sitting at his desk at the Craigie House in Cambridge, MA, Henry was inspired to write a poem as he listened to the church bells pealing. Their constancy and joyous ringing inspired him to write “Christmas Bells.” In spite of his sadness, Longfellow expresses his belief in God and innate optimism that indeed:

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

Sometime after 1872, Longfellow’s poem was adapted into a Christmas Carol. John B. Caulkin (1827-1905) was a famous English composer who set the lyrics to a gentle, melodic tune that is reminiscent of bells ringing. The carol is entitled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Alternative tunes have been written for the lyrics but Caulkin’s melody remains predominant.

I lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire from February 1966 – the last day of April 1967. I was in the seventh and eighth grades. My father was in the United States Air Force at the time. As a student at Portsmouth Junior High School, I took field trips to both Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Longfellow was a Bowdoin College graduate and was a faculty member before moving to Cambridge to teach at Harvard.

We placed great emphasis when I was in junior high school on classical education with understanding and appreciation of the arts including poetry. Only my university and seminary education had a greater impact on me than my short two years in New England public schools.

Christian Writers Are God’s Provision For Others

Text: Proverbs 10:17

“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” –Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (p. 534). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

As Christian writers, our witness is as important as the stories or poems we write.

If our private lives don’t match our public lives, our writing suffers. More importantly, we have people tune out the message of Jesus Christ because of our witness. They label us as just another religious hypocrite.

One of the most significant and miraculous things in life is to heed God’s voice. It is when we fully trust and follow in His ways.

I know what you are thinking, how can you know the ways and instruction of God? First, you ask God through prayer. Second, you spend time in His word, the Bible, by reading, meditating on and memorizing Scripture. Third, you listen to God’s herald … this would be listening to sermons as you attend church.

You might be thinking, but you don’t know me. I have really failed. I have broken so many of God’s teachings … how can He ever use me? God is a forgiving God. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 KJV teaches, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God has a plan for your life.

Never forget that God knows your heart. He even knows your most secret thoughts and feelings. God knows the number of hairs on your head. God knows everything!

Maybe you think you have everything under control. If you believe that, you are wrong. Only God has everything under control.

Maybe you are feeling confused and just need direction in your life. Perhaps the struggles of daily living and just meeting life’s expenses have you down. You feel spiritually broken.

One thing we can do in times of brokenness and confusion is to look God and pray for our needs … and don’t forget to thank and praise God when He meets your needs!

An example of God’s provision from my life was recently finding a large package with twenty rolls of toilet paper in the middle of the highway. I stopped, picked it up, and took it home. My wife shared she hadn’t purchased any that week when she bought groceries but had been looking for some on sale as our finances were tight. God met this everyday need in our life. Another example could be a friend who calls and speaks words of reassurance or encouragement when you feel depressed or hopeless.

Christian writers are God’s provision for others.

We are the used to meet needs in other’s lives. We need to heed God’s instructions where others will listen to what God is saying through our writings. When we fail to walk with God, our witness doesn’t point others to Christ, but can actually lead them astray.

Devotional: How Christian Love Works

“How Christian Love Works”

1.   Christian love is thankful for the best in others.

“I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers” – Philemon verse 4 KJV

  • Do you pray for your friends?
  • Are you more concerned about what you can get from your friends than what you can do for them?
  • Are you thankful for your Christian friends?

2.  Christian love seeks the welfare of others.

“I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: ” – Philemon verse 4 KJV

  • Onesimus is a slave.
  • He had run away.
  • Paul lead him to Christ.
  • He is concerned about Onesimus’ safety and welfare.
  • Do you seek the welfare others?

3.  Christian love deals fairly with other.

“Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:” – Philemon verse 12

  • Paul sent Onesimus back to his owner.
  • He interceded on Onesimus’ behalf.
  • He is concerned about following the law and Onesimus’ welfare.
  • Do you deal fairly with others?

 4. Christian love bears the problems of others.

“If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;” – Philemon verse 18

  • Paul pleads for forgiveness of the offense.
  • Paul is willing to takes responsibility for whatever Onesimus may owe his master.
  • Do you bear others burdens?

5. Christian love believes the best in others

“Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.” – Philemon verse 21

  • Paul tells Onesimus that he believes in him.
  • He tells him he knows he will do his best.
  • He encourages Onesimus.
  • Do you encourage and really believe in your friends?

This is an original devotion written by Jimmie A. Kepler on March 19, 2012.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License by Jimmie Kepler.