The Durability of Hope (Advent Week 1)

December 2, 2018 by George Fritts


I have a confession to make:  I cheated this year.  I began listening to Christmas music the week before Thanksgiving.  I needed “a little Christmas, right this very minute…” (For those I just song-bombed, you’re welcome. Sorry…not sorry).

For some reason, every time I hear the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” this season, the lyrics of the third verse go right to my heart:

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!”

For those unfamiliar with the history behind it, the song was lifted from a Longfellow poem called “Christmas Bells.” It was written Christmas Day of 1863, just past the chronological midpoint of the American Civil War.  The poem actually contains seven stanzas. The middle stanza describes the noise of cannon fire drowning out the hopeful Christmas bells.  In the next stanza, Longfellow laments,

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Longfellow lived in New England—much too far away to hear the cannon fire in the Carolinas, if there actually was any on that Christmas Day.  Longfellow’s despair went much deeper than an interrupted playlist of Christmas music.  He was mourning the death of hope.

We are not taking up arms against each other today—at least not in an organized way—however, we are similarly being pressured to take sides.  We are more polarized as a nation than any other time in my life. I have never been to a school shooting; nevertheless, the echoes of senseless gunshots threaten to drown out my own sense of peace and goodwill. Every reminder of the ways we are divided is accompanied by a fear that hope is dying.

But, each time, before I can get too depressed, Longfellow’s last stanza comes rushing in:

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.”

I believe too strongly in the One who made us and in the strength of our connections to let hope die. Ultimately, hope is not so fragile or silent.

 

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