Ringing the Salvation Army bell at Christmas has been a favorite pastime for our family. Seeing the generosity of people as they walk into the store is amazing. Some give, some do not. Some drop money in on the way in, some on the way out. Some announce their giving, some sneak it in. Some make a point to say they’ll give on the way out, some will avoid you and not make eye contact. For some, those bells inspire hope, and for others they bring grief and hopelessness. The guy that served after us last year brought his kids and they all had fun Christmas sweaters on, greeted us with a smile, and gave us candy canes and sparkling grape juice. The person that replaced us the year before complained and was 20 minutes late for their one hour shift. The sound of that bell reminds me it’s Christmas and how God gave us His Son Jesus to pay the price for our sins. For one, the sound of bells momentarily brought on heartache and disappointment.
Henry Longfellow wrote the poem “I Heart the Bells on Christmas Day” after hearing church bells ring on Christmas day in 1863. This poem, which was later put to song, was written out of grief as his wife had died in a horrible fire and his son was severely wounded in the Civil War. He began the poem, “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.” So far so good, but he would go on to write, “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.'” But God’s grace overcame his grief and he wrote, “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.’” At first, the Christmas bells reminded him of all that had gone wrong and his deep sorrow. But Longfellow soon remembered God’s grace and victory over sin, evil, and tragedy by sending Jesus into the world. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world, “Jesus would say in John 16:33.
Question: Does Christmas bring up bad memories and emotions for you? Have you combated them with the truth of Christ and His grace, peace, joy, and hope?