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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Star Barn at Christmas
The Star Barn in Elizabethtown, PA

"Can You Hear The Bells?"

Message summary:
Whatever you are going through may the Lord enable you to hear the bells!

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

"Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:16-18).

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!

Church bells

Saint Marks Church here in Mount Joy has church bells or more likely a carillon which plays beautiful sacred music that can be heard through the downtown area. Church bells were a feature in older churches and once very common in small town America as well as in large cities. Few modern church edifices being built in our age have church bells and thus increasingly more and more are unfamiliar with them. But years ago many churches had bells. What a powerful way to call a community to remember God.

I Heard The Bells On Christmas DayThey are also the theme of a Christmas carol written over 150 years ago by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow titled "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day". It was written during the cruel miseries of the Civil War but he also had his own personal cruel miseries.

In the summer of 1861 - mere months after the Civil War began - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lost his wife Fanny in a tragic accident. One night while trimming their daughter’s hair by candlelight, a few drops of hot wax fell on her nightgown and ignited when a gust of wind came through the window.

Henry Wadsworth LongfellowLongfellow did his best to save her but she was burned too badly, and he ended up with severe burns on his face & hands. Longfellow, of course, was distraught. His trademark full beard was a direct result of his mourning, as he claimed he no longer had the energy to shave. (Some report that he grew the beard to cover the scars on his face brought about by the fire.)

Christmas is hardest on the bereaved and Longfellow was no exception. On December 25, 1861, the first year without his wife, he wrote in his journal: “How inexpressibly sad are all the holidays.” Exactly one year later, this is the entry: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.” On Christmas of 1863 his journal was left blank.

But then, on December 25, 1864 Longfellow heard the bells from a Boston church on Christmas day and found peace that seemed to have dissipated after the long period of sorrow and mourning. On that day he wrote this soul-stirring poem which years later became a hymn. See below for a video link to a stirring version by Casting Crowns.

The beautiful chiming bells of Christmas reminded Longfellow that God was still in command and in His pre-ordained time He would cause the right to triumph. Our loving Father would bring the sounds of peace and good will to the hearts of men and women, boys and girls.

We associate Christmas with hope, love, joy, and peace, the four advent themes, but in the same Scriptural narrative concerning the birth of Christ there is the written record of practically unimaginable evil. We know the story but it's not a section of the Christmas narrative that we choose to focus on. We might even prefer to skip over it since the backdrop seems to be so unconducive to what we perceive as the proper setting for the Christ Child's arrival.

King Herod, in an effort to eliminate the infant King, ordered his soldiers to kill "all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under" (Matthew 2:16). What a horrible slaughter this must have been. Herod was an evil man. I also consider the moral depravity of the soldiers in carrying out such an evil command. Even though we know Herod's motivation there is no reason to believe the inhabitants of Bethlehem did. Can you imagine the utter terror of that night and deep grief that followed?

One can only imagine the inconsolable agony of all who resided in Bethlehem. Surely each family was affected, directly or indirectly. The act fulfilled an ancient prophecy by Jeremiah who wrote, "Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:17-18).

Deep grief and despair has always existed in the human experience since the original fall. Today some reading this are in such a condition.

On Christmas Day, 1864, Henry Longfellow gave vent to his feelings in this plaintive carol that can only be understood against the backdrop of war. Two stanzas now omitted from most hymnals speak of the cannons thundering in the South and of hatred tearing apart "the hearth-stones of a continent." The poet drops his head in despair, but then he hears the ringing of Christmas bells. Their triumphant pealing reminds him that "God is not dead nor doth He sleep".

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.”

We who believe in Christ still live in a fallen world with so much evil and unrest. As we see more and more of those who vehemently reject the way of Christ (John 14:6, Acts 9:2) we see evil increase (see Matthew 24:12).

The peace of which the angels sang is not speaking of the external circumstances that surround us. Rather it is the peace that Christ imparts within our hearts when we know Him as Savior and Lord. The Prince of Peace reigning within our hearts is truly a gift from God that surpasses all other gifts. Won't you receive the Christ of Christmas today!

The song looks forward prophetically to a time yet future for us:

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.

Whatever you are going through today may the Lord enable you to hear the bells!

Do you hear the bells they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men
(From the Casting Crowns version)

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, our hearts are heavy when we awaken each day with new reports of widespread evil, whether it's in our region of the world or in a distant land. It could drive us to despair when we consider the continuous chipping away of Biblical morals and godly restraint sweeping across the globe. Additionally so many deal with these troubling situations through a politically correct lens instead of the black and white truth. The only lasting answer to our soul's diseases and widespread evil is provided for us in the arrival of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Though the majority reject Your answer for our sin problem, how grateful we are that Jesus still came, for He lives within the hearts of those who see their need and receive His forgiveness. In the midst of the prevailing darkness, like Longfellow, we declare that You are not dead and You do not sleep. The seasons of darkness we experience is a temporary state, but in You is everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee, O God of light! Amen.

* In researching for this message online we note that there are some discrepancies regarding specific details among the various accounts. On the anniversary of the accident he wrote in his journal: "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace."

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Thank you,

Stephen & Brooksyne

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"  Video  Casting Crowns  We have both enjoyed this version for many years!

"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"  Video  Gaither Vocal Band (a more traditional version)

The satire site Babylon Bee had an article several days ago titled "Planned Parenthood Honors King Herod With Lifetime Achievement Award". What an insightful take!!!

Don’t Be A Scroogedy Scrooge Like Herod is the title of a sermon this month at a local church here in Lancaster County!

Star Barn at Christmas

The Star Barn Village is one of our newer tourist attractions in Lancaster County with restored barns, a train, a covered bridge and other sights. We have the opportunity to attend a special event with the Convene group at the Star Barn today. If you live in central PA or are coming this way here is the info: "Christmas Light Drive Through" at the Star Barn.

Note: Another similar attraction in our area is at Hershey with the Hershey Sweet Lights which indeed has lots of lights. However when we went through about ten years ago any expression of the real meaning of Christmas was conspicuously absent.

David Abel, the owner of the Star Barn property is a devout Christian and the description of the drive through states, "Proceed through the “decked out” Herr’s Mill Covered Bridge also known as “The Kissing Bridge.” See the Harrisburg, Lincoln & Lancaster Railroad’s engine and passenger car dressed for the holidays. Next, travel through the Moravian Star Forest. Enjoy over 500,000 LED lights, more action, and experience the new two-mile route for a truly brilliant Christmas Light Drive-Through illuminating the TRUE meaning of Christmas and its traditions.

Star Barn Village Christmas lights video

Resources for Christmas Celebrations
(We will leave these resources posted below our daily messages through Christmas)

Each year we share several online resources that we have used over the years and that may be a blessing to you, your family or church during this Christmas season.

"In Remembrance of Me" pdf  This is a passion-filled Scripture reading for two adults. Brooksyne and I have used this reading with great receptivity during Christmas Eve services over the years.  We suggest, if possible, a musical background as the message is read. It is also a great lead-in to a Communion service. It should be thoroughly practiced and read with great feeling.  Here's a great Communion Hymn for Christmas (Video)

"When Christ Was Born" pdf This is an adaptation to the tune of "How Great Thou Art". It's a great song to sing as a congregation since most are familiar with and love the tune.

Responsive Christmas Scripture readings for church or family:
John 1:1-18  pdf
"O Come Let Us Adore Him"  pdf

My First Christmas In Heaven  This is a blessed reminder for all who lost a loved one this year.  Brooksyne read and wrote about the poem in this message.  

Christmas Knowledge Test

We have also posted two Christmas carol quizzes here (scroll down).

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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