Often we need just turn back the pages of history to find our answers.
On Christmas morning 1864, one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Morning" was penned by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Out of great despair and a heart so fully broken, he did not believe peace would ever belong to him again.
Longfellow lived in the tranquil New England town of Cambridge, Mass. overlooking the Charles River with his beloved wife Fanny and their five children living children, having had a daughter that passed away as a young child.
Cambridge was an idyllic town surrounded by wooded pines and star filled nights, they felt safe and protected in their home.
In July of 1861, Fanny recorded in her diary "Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight."
The following day Fanny trimmed Edie’s beautiful long locks and attempted to preserve them by dripping sealing wax on them. As she began to melt the wax, bits of it dripped on her without her knowledge, causing her summer dress to go up in flames.
She ran to the Longfellow’s study where he attempted to extinguish the flames with a small rug. As the flames continued, he threw his arms around her, severely burning his face, arms, and hands.
She died the next day.
Three days later on their 18Th wedding anniversary, 44-year-old Fanny was buried.
The month after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote to his late wife’s sister, “How I am alive after what my eyes have seen, I know not. I am at least patient, if not resigned; and thank God hourly - as I have from the beginning - for the beautiful life we led together, and that I loved her more and more to the end."
The first Christmas after her death he wrote, “How inexpressible sad are all the holidays.” Later he was recorded as saying “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”
As the Civil War raged since the first shots in April 12, 1861, Longfellow’s beloved firstborn son Charles enlisted with the Union against Longfellow’s will.
Longfellow's journal entry for December 25th 1862 read "'A Merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me."
In 1863, at the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia, Charles, now a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac was hit in the shoulder with a bullet taking out parts of his vertebrae.
Longfellow headed to Washington to find his seriously disabled son and brought him home to Cambridge to recover.
The Christmas of 1863, Longfellow made no entries in his journal.
As the Christmas of 1864 approached, the ravages of the Civil War had taken their toll. The entire future of our country seemed uncertain and a feeling of darkness and death filled the land.
Could peace be found on this Christmas morn?
The anguished Longfellow, still mourning the loss of his beloved Fanny and the injuries of his first-born son Charles, reflected on his sorrow as the distant church bells rang out from the village of Cambridge. As he listened he began to pen one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time ~
I heard the bells of Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
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.
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."
As he wrote, the sound of the bells grew louder and louder.
With each ring of the bell, he felt Fanny’s strength and presence.
His heart turned as hope arose….
if Christmas lives on, Fanny lives on.
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."
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!
And so it was on Christmas morning, Henry Longfellow found the peace and hope he believed it was impossible to feel again.
For God is not missing even in our deepest grief. His Sovereign plan is greater than ours ~ though often hard to understand.
Evil never wins, for even in death our Lord ushers His beloved children to him through the gates of heaven where there is no more suffering or pain.
There will always be evil in our midst this side of heaven. The peace we long for must be carried in our own hearts, spread from person to person on the wings of grace.
As we mourn the loss of children and mothers, daughters and wives know that death is a beginning and not an end.
Romans 8:38~39 “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Psalms 48:14 “For this God is our God forever and ever ~ he will be our guide even unto death.”
Philippians 1:21 “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Go Here to find my favorite version of this song, newly released.