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.
Sunday was Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice! It is almost time! Rose, not purple. We get a brief reprieve from our preparations to focus on the joy of the season.
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.
As predictable as the sunrise, Christian men and women cannot contain our joyful excitement. There are pageants and nativity displays. We sing carols. Everywhere, people are smiling, even at strangers. Charities get more donations. Everyone is focused on giving. What will I give? Who will I give to?
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 the spell of the season is broken. There is a display in Times Square, New York depicting Santa, with the caption, "Embrace the Merry." Charming, right? But the bottom of the same billboard depicts Jesus on the Cross and is captioned, "Dump the myth."
Last year my town was the focus of a national battle over Christmas displays. The short story is that the county courthouse has traditionally displayed a nativity scene and a Menorah. Some few got mad and voiced the concern. The county decided that to avoid an appearance of government sponsored religion, anyone who wanted could put up a display on the courthouse grounds. Ten displays at a time and permits would be considered in the order the were received. Last year there were a few different nativities displayed. Some stunningly beautiful, some amusing. (Star Wars Christmas?) There was also a skeleton dressed in a Santa suit. He was crucified. I had to explain that particular obscenity to my then three year old daughter.
Most painfully poignant this year, just a few days before Gaudete Sunday, there was a heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, CT. Such astounding, incomprehensible violence has the whole country talking. We want to make sense of it. We have to understand it. We want to talk about guns and mental illness. We want to find someone to blame. We want to pin our rage. We want to find a way to keep the sorrow from consuming us. Holy Mary, Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.
Where is God?
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."
This time of year it is easy to get wrapped up in the cute baby and our magical story. Christ was born! God humbled Himself to be born a man, and not a rich man but the son of a poor man. The rich gifts He received from the kings must have seemed almost comical, juxtaposed with his humble surrounding. Shepherds and Angels, mundane and celestial, worshiping and rejoicing together.
In our preparation for the holiday celebrating that glorious event, we remember God's people waiting for the Messiah to come, just as we wait for His second coming. The King of Kings will come again in glory. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” Revelation 21:4
When Our Lord came as man, He entered into our experience of a fallen world, His perfect creation, scarred by sin and death. He experienced suffering and loss. He watched people He loved die, including His father, Joseph. He saw sickness and pain and abuse. But in His death, He claimed triumph for life, forever. And even now we can look forward, joyfully, to the coming of our King. When He comes again, our broken hearts will be healed. Rejoice even now; life triumphs over death. Gaudete!
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!