I sat at the piano attempting to put together the songs for a Christmas Concert. My fingers felt heavy as they sat upon the piano keys and tried to move in response to the notes upon my music sheet. I was tired - the kind of tired that made my voice scratchy and coarse. This wasn't even close to my best, but I knew the "show must go on." So, I sang through my set list hoping that I could pull of "festive" when, in truth, all I felt was broken.
"God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay..."
The word "dismay" caught my attention. To “dismay” means to lose courage, to be discouraged, to feel disheartened and to feel let down. As the word rolled off my tongue, my heart responded with a deep recognition. This is how I had so often felt during the past year - a year when everything seemed to go completely different than how I had planned. Friends and family - including my beloved Papa - had been lost this year. I had watched my country hurt. I had watched my family hurt. And I had hurt - deeply and profoundly.
Yet the words, "let nothing you dismay..." rang out not only with recognition - I had been there; I had felt that - but also with a command to the very deepest parts of my soul, 'Don't give up. There is hope.'
And that's when I remembered him.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - a poet who knew dismay well.
In 1863, he faced Christmas head on with a broken heart. His beloved America had become embroiled in the Civil War. Families were split apart. Bands of thieves roamed the country. His son, a soldier, had been shot and severely wounded in war.
Two years prior, his beautiful wife, Frances, had died from burns caused by a horrible accident. An accident that left Henry's face permanently scarred and unable to be shaved - a constant reminder of the wife he could not save. Grieving, Henry sat down on Christmas day to do the only thing he knew to do. With pen in hand, he began to pour out the brokenness of his heart upon the page.
I heard the bells on Christmas day, Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat, 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
But the bells are ringing (peace on Earth), Like a choir singing (peace on Earth),
Does anybody hear them? (Peace on Earth), Peace on Earth, good will to men
Henry’s sorrow bleeds into every lyric. As he watches the war ravage our nation's landscape he wonders, "Is peace even possible? Can this get better?"
But then, something changes. Henry's lyrics take a turn - from sorrow to hope, from despair to promise.
Then rang 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
Then 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
And the bells, they're ringing (peace on Earth), Like a choir they're singing (peace on
Earth), And with our hearts, we'll hear them (peace on Earth),
Peace on Earth, good will to men.
Henry realizes, as he listens to the Christmas bells chime over his broken life, that
GOD ISN’T DONE YET. The God who does not grow tired or weary, whose wisdom is unsearchable, and whose power is incomparable will not fail him (Isaiah 40:27-29).
Wrapped up within the Christmas story - told by the bells of Christmas day - is a message of HOPE, of a God who does the IMPOSSIBLE, and a God who TURNS THINGS AROUND.
Can you hear the bells today?
And the hope that found its way into Henry's heart has also found its way into mine. I believe. Even now. After everything. No matter what. I believe.
My prayer for you today is that the hope Henry found on that Christmas day find its way into your heart, too. It's not over until He says.