By Jacob Hanneman
Those words were penned by one of America’s most famous poets — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. You’ve heard the song; here’s the story.
On July 9, 1861, Longfellow’s wife Fanny was using hot sealing wax, when suddenly her dress was engulfed in flames. Her screams awoke Longfellow, who desperately tried to put out the fire, but Fanny was terribly burned, as was Longfellow. The next day, Fanny slipped into a coma, and soon died. Longfellow’s own burns were so severe that he wasn’t even able to attend the funeral.
A couple years passed. While he continued with his craft, his heart hurt deeply. Plus, the nation was embroiled in the Civil War. Yet, on Christmas Day 1864, he sat down to try to capture, if possible, the joys of Christmas. He began:
“I heard the bells on Christ- mas Day.
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the word repeat
of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Beautiful! But the angst of that day — his personal hurts, the war — weighed deeply. So he penned the third verse:
“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 then he continued, turning his thoughts heavenward, to the one who can solve all problems:
“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.”
Later, a musician named J. Baptiste Calkin wrote the musical setting which has made the piece a favorite.
Wow — he could pen such powerful words at a time of such difficulty! Why so? It’s because the “peace on earth, good will to men” had to do with the real peace that each of us needs— peace of conscience, peace of heart, peace between us and our God. Indeed, you can go to sleep tonight at peace, knowing that your home in heaven is prepared, that it’s sure, ready for you.
For you see, Jesus came to this earth not just to be a babe in a manger, but to be your Savior. Sin and guilt press on us, bring us anxiety and stress. Jesus came to forgive us, to win us peace. He came to earth to die for you, to pay for your sins and mine. And because of that? There’s peace — real peace, eternal peace, peace between you and your God.
And that’s something to sing about!
Have a Blessed Christmas from you friends at Trinity Ev Lutheran Church.
NOTE: Pastor Jacob Hanneman officiates at Terry’s Trinity Lutheran Church and Circle’s Salem Lutheran Church.
Published Dec. 21, 2011