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Monday, December 19, 2022
"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"
Message summary: Whatever you are going through may the Lord enable you to hear the bells!
Listen 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!
This weekend we watched the movie, "I Heard The Bells" which was produced by Sight and Sound and filmed right here in Lancaster County. Although I am not a film critic (thankfully) we thought it was very well done especially in light of a relatively low budget and using local actors.
Church bells were an important fixture in older churches and very commonly heard in small town America as well as large cities. Few modern church edifices being built in our age have church bells and thus increasingly more and more are unfamiliar with such an experience as hearing the bells indicate it is time for church to begin. There are other kinds of bells and chimes that play a familiar hymn tune at different times of the day or on Sunday mornings.
But years ago many churches, even small ones, had bells. What a powerful way to call a community to remember God. We still have several churches in our community that play well known hymns and it warms one's heart no matter what you might be doing at the moment.
"I Heard the Bells" movie is based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow over 150 years ago. It was later put to music and has been sung as a carol at Christmas ever since. I noticed yesterday it is in our church's hymnal, although we rarely sing from the hymnal anymore! 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 - Longfellow lost his wife Fanny in a tragic accident. After trimming some of seven year old Edith’s beautiful curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in an envelope. While she was melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle to seal the keepsake in the envelope, a few drops fell unnoticed in her lap. A breeze came through the window, igniting Fanny’s dress – immediately wrapping her in flames. *
Longfellow 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 deeply distraught. His trademark full beard was a direct result of his mourning, as he claimed he no longer had the energy to shave. (Some accounts also 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. In God's pre-ordained time He 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. It would not be the theme of a Christmas Eve service for example. 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. But like it or not it's in the Bible and part of the historical record.
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 time period and the deep grief that followed?
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 have always existed in the human experience since the original fall. Perhaps some reading this today are in such a hopeless frame of mind.
On Christmas Day, 1864, Longfellow gave vent to his feelings in his plaintive poem that can only be understood against the backdrop of his own deep heartache and 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 poem reveals the heart of the poet when he bleakly describes what he is seeing all around him:
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 the tone begins to lighten as he writes of hearing the ringing of Christmas bells. Their triumphant pealing reminds him that "God is not dead nor doth He sleep".
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 who believe in Christ still live in a fallen world. As we see more and more of those who vehemently reject the way of Christ (John 14:6, Acts 9:2) we inevitably see evil and unrest increase (see Matthew 24:12). It's in the news daily and in some instances it's right in our own back yard.
The peace of which the angels spoke is not that which comes from external circumstances that surround us. Rather it is the peace which 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!
Whatever the circumstances of your life may the Lord enable you to hear the bells, reminding you of God's ultimate victory!
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
(Casting Crowns version)
Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)
Stephen and Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, our hearts are heavy when we awaken each day with new reports of widespread evil, whether it's in our region or from 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, and chose to live 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.
Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
We shared the following information a couple of weeks ago after Ester had seen the movie but before Brooksyne and I went to see it. We certainly recommend it after seeing it ourselves and hope that it is playing in your "neck of the woods"!
"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" Video Casting Crowns (For many years this has been our favorite version of the song.)
Sight and Sound is well known in our area (and also Branson, MO) for their huge Biblical-themed live theatrical presentations. This year they produced a movie based on "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day".
It is now being screened at theaters all over the US so if you're interested you may find it in your area. As mentioned in our message today we saw it this last weekend and really enjoyed it. It was filmed right here in Lancaster County at many sights we often visit, including Strasburg Railroad not far from the Old Windmill farm.
Longfellow lived in the Boston area where we also lived in the 90's. Any of you visit Beacon Hill in Boston, that's where his home was located.
Video Review: “I Heard the Bells” Is Ringing Out RESOUNDING HOPE And REKINDLED FAITH During The Christmas Season!
"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" Video Rachel Day Hughes who played Longfellow's wife (song from movie)
* The movie depicts this a bit differently but this account is from FANNY LONGFELLOW - Wife Of Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Old Windmill Farm – A couple of weeks ago a crew from Today Show (NBC) descended upon The Old Windmill Farm and filmed some activities taking place that day. Jessie informed us about it and we learned only this morning that it will be featured tomorrow. Today Show is suggesting ideas for Christmas presents and include destinations rather than items that may end up being returned to the store. We don’t know the time it will air but know it will be tomorrow should you be interested in viewing it.
Our 2022 family Christmas photo
(taken yesterday by Jim, a friend from our ABF)
Click to enlarge
Saturday evening Brooksyne and Ester went to a "Point Of Grace" concert.
It was Brooksyne's belated birthday gift since Ester ended up in the hospital on Oct. 21st. Ester was determined that she was going to make up for it so she got a ticket for her and Brooksyne to see P.O.G. Brooksyne was so pleased to hear her favorite song from this group,
"All Is Well" Video
Ester had an evening out with her ABF group from church so we got a photo of her all dressed up along with Rosie and Falcon who celebrated their 3rd birthday yesterday.
We were blessed by our choir and orchestra yesterday.
Click to enlarge. Can you find Brooksyne?
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Stephen & Brooksyne
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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