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Conventional Thinking: Christmas wars & peace

I recently saw a Facebook contest that encouraged people to pick their favorite Christmas song. In an NCAA Tournament-style bracket, the contest pitted 64 songs against one another in a round-by-round process, with one song to win out in the end.

While I’m not sure if “O Holy Night” or “Jingle Bells” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (or another) will ultimately prevail, this was a reminder that Christmas songs continue to hold a special place in people’s hearts—and can even cause debates.

Of course we live in a time in which we are divided over many things and debate almost everything. From politics to sports to music, people can get into an argument in a heartbeat over any given issue. Some have even said America is more divided now than ever before.

Yet it is a Christmas song that reminds us of another time in which America was even more divided than it is today. It was a time in which brother was fighting against brother in battle. A time that saw, after Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, seven states secede from the Union before he was even inaugurated as President. It was a time in which the nation was literally at war with itself.

During the American Civil War, a Christmas poem was composed that would later be set to music in a song that still resonates to this day. The song, in fact, has as much to say to us today as the time it was written.

Consider the original words of a song composed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow around 1863:

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!

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,
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Amid the backdrop of a time in which death and hate seemed so strong that they mocked the very angels’ song of peace on earth, good will to men (Luke 2:14), there was only one thing that could give Longfellow hope.

It was the thought that God is alive; that the right will prevail in the end; and that Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, has come to save sinners like you and me.

So the next time you hear news on TV or on social media that seems too much to bear and makes you bow your head in despair, remember the bells of Christmas. And remember that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is greater still.

Brian Hobbs

Author: Brian Hobbs

Brian is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

View more articles by Brian Hobbs.

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