My daughter and grandson had Covid 19, and it was not pretty. We are grateful they were not sick enough to need hospitalization. Yet the worst part of 2020-21 for me has been the division—division over how to respond to a virus, division over police violence, division over how to run free and fair elections, division over news sources and whom to believe on basic factual information—the very nature and source of Truth. We don’t seem to be able to agree on anything. Those divisions have practical repercussions for how (or even whether) to hold worship services, support local businesses, or buy toilet paper.
One of the articles in the December 2018 CT is about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Christmas hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”—long one of my favorites. It begins blithely enough as “wild and sweet the words repeat/Of peace on earth, good will to men.” But the hymn was written during the American Civil War. Verse 4 (which I have never heard sung) refers to the canon thundering in the South drowning the sound of “peace on earth, good will to men.” We usually skip to what was originally verse 6.
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.”
We can identify with that emotion even as we have forgotten the original context, and it certainly describes 2021 with its ethnic slurs, racial injustice, political name-calling and refusal to work together for solutions.
In the CT article “A Carol for the Despairing,” Kristen O’Neal reminds us of the original stanza 5:
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.
“An earthquake rent/The hearth-stones of a continent.” That is what we are experiencing today. Homes, families, churches—the places where we used to gather as community (around the hearth)—torn apart clear across this continent.
People left our church when we went to on-line services for a while last spring. Maybe they left your church because you DIDN'T stop meeting. For months we have had two services—one for people who want to follow CDC guidelines, and another for those who choose not to wear masks. Now that most of us early-service people have been vaccinated, we are returning to worshiping together, but it won’t be easy. Our values still conflict.
Today is the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, a call to action for some. Others can’t get past the violent protests that followed Floyd’s death to see the violence that provoked it. Canon thunder in North AND South, threatening to drown cries for peace on earth, goodwill toward men.
Fortunately, 2021 has not degenerated into actual warfare like 1860 did. But even in the midst of a violent civil war, Longfellow’s faith did not leave him in despair.
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.”
God is not dead.
God is not asleep.
He is the just Judge of Revelation; the wrong shall fail.
The right will prevail, not because my side has more guns, or more votes in Congress, or controls the police or the media, but because Jesus Christ died on the cross to redeem this world from hate, injustice and abuse. He rose from the dead to give us power to overcome our anger and resentment, our apathy and our blindness to our neighbor's needs.
He is alive. What can you do today to bring peace and goodwill?
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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