Christmas carol’s message holds comfort, joy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Christmas carol came to mind the morning after the Connecticut school shooting.  The lyrics come from a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His words described the way I felt after hearing the tragic news.

Longfellow penned his poem on Christmas Eve 1863, six months after the Battle of Gettysburg where more than 40,000 soldiers died. He had lost his wife in a tragic fire in 1861, the year the Civil War began. His son, Lieutenant Charles Longfellow, had been severely wounded in November 1862.

It is said that on Dec. 24, 1863, Henry W. Longfellow sat down at his desk. He wrote these words as he heard bells outside ringing again and again. “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.

“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.’

“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.’”

We witnessed inconceivable evil perpetrated by the gunman at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.  His hate was strong. It leaves us asking God why. Albert Einstein once said, “God did not create evil.  Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God.”

We have witnessed good will to men as people across the nation and around the world have prayed for and reached out to the residents of Newtown, Conn. Lance Eiland, a United Methodist minister, posted on Facebook, “…I don’t know why this happened. But I do know this…to the parents…God, more than most, knows what it is like to lose a child to an act of violence.  I hope that you will seek and find refuge in God.”

Minister and best-selling author Max Lucado wrote a Christmas prayer which I read online, “Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas.  But you were born in the dark, right?  You came at night.  The shepherds were nightshift workers.  The Wise Men followed a star.  Your first cries were heard in the shadows.  To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame.  It was dark.  Dark with Herod’s jealousy.  Dark with Roman oppression.  Dark with poverty.  Dark with violence.  Herod went on a rampage, killing babies.  Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt.  You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.”

A child conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit came to redeem mankind from evil. The angels announced his birth saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)

As author Melanie Shankle put it, “Two thousand years ago, the cry of a baby was a holy roar letting evil know that weeping may last for the night but joy comes in the morning.”


Jan White is an award-winning religion columnist.  Her email address is