A few weeks back I was preparing for Christmas and I came across this old carol written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The first verse is:
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.
What I didn’t realise is that life was anything but peaceful for Longfellow. A few weeks before he penned the carol he had received news that his son had been seriously injured in the American Civil War. Just two years earlier his wife had been killed in an accident. Longfellow’s life was falling apart yet on Christmas morning 1863 as he sat at his desk he heard the church bells ringing, and ringing. It was in this setting he wrote the carol. The second verse gives us some insight into the pain he was going through.
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.
Despair is a terrible thing. Despair is the absence of hope. As Neil Anderson comments in his book Overcoming Depression, ‘Despair sees no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope at the end of the day and no answers for the endless round of questions that plague the depressed mind.’
The Psalmist cries out “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”
In the utter darkness of despair the psalmist knew where to turn and so did Longfellow:
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.
If you are going through a particularly tough season please remember there is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of one small candle! Truth always shines through the darkness, the truth that God promises never to leave us or forsake us, the truth that men and women have often found God in the darkness. But as David’s famous psalm reminds us He never leaves us in darkness, no He leads us out of the dark valley into new pastures into green pastures. He restores our soul! That’s a promise that enabled Longfellow to write a new song in the darkness. May we be able to sing with Longfellow?
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.