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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Updated on June 19, 2012
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I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


The Song and It's Message

Most of us have heard the song: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Many of us sing it every Christmas as we celebrate Jesus' birth. But few know the story behind it. The song comes from a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I. The Theme

The poem actually tells of the despair that the author feels when he first hears the bells of Christmas. But it ends with his renewed faith in God, and a renewed hope for peace among mankind. For those who don't remember it, I'll give you a few of the verses:

"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."

It is in the third verse that we get the problem that the song writer has:

"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."

II. The Story

Longfellow actually wrote this song out of a deep despair of his own. It was written during the terrible bloody days of the American Civil War, when it seemed to many Americans that peace might never come.

Also, during this time, Longfellow's son, who had joined the Union cause against his father's wishes, was severely wounded in the Battle of New Church in Virginia. And shortly before that, his wife, Frances, died as a result of an accidental fire.

It was during this deep sorrow, and mourning that Longfellow wrote "Christmas Bells" on Christmas day, in 1864. It was published the following year.

III. The Acceptance of God's Sovereignty

It is ultimately the acceptance that God is still in control of this universe, and all that happens, that leads Longfellow to write the last two verses of the song. He looks forward to the day when God will, once and for all, take care of evil and sin. And he will bring about the peace that all of us desire. He says:

"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."

"Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day- A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, good-will to men!"


The wonderful thing about knowing the Lord, is that we have read the end of the book, and know how it's all going to turn out. God wins! Satan and evil lose! There will come a day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There will be no more mourning, or crying or pain. The former things will have passed away. And finally, peace on earth, will prevail forever. Praise the Lord! And to quote another song: "What a day, glorious day, that will be!"


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    • GodTalk profile image

      Jeff Shirley 5 years ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      I know it seems strange that I wrote about a Christmas song in June, but it was the message of God's sovereignty over everything and His ultimate tripumph over the tragedies of life that I always liked about this song. And I couldn't get it out of my head, so was assuming that the Lord wanted me to write about it. Thanks for your comments lifegate.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 5 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      I have to admit--it was the title that drew me in. I'm sitting here in the middle o June, 90+ degrees and 80% humidity and you're writing about Christmas. Loved it! Thanks for the background to that wonderful Christmas song.

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      From your mouth to God's ears we pray! Amen!

    • GodTalk profile image

      Jeff Shirley 5 years ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      That would be a wonderful thing to hear. Sadly, that won't happen while much of the world is still in rebellion against the King of Kings. But one day every knee will bow. Then maybe we'll hear those bells ringing across the world. God bless.

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      I would love it if one by one, as Christmas Day begins, in every town, every city around the world, church bells rang out announcing the arrival of Jesus on earth yearly.