I've always been drawn to the Christmas song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day'. A few years ago, my husband and I attended an awe-inspiring Christmas concert with Steven Curtis Chapman and Mercy Me. During the concert, as the melody and a deep base beat played ever-so-softly in the background, they shared with the audience a glimpse of the events that had inspired the lyrics to this song, written by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow so very long ago on Christmas Day in 1964.
After the concert, I investigated further, seeking more detail to the story. I learned that, in a very short time span, Longfellow had lost his wife to a tragic accident in their home, and his son had returned - critically injured - from the American Civil War that was devastating his beloved country. I can only imagine that his faith was being tested beyond measure and his hope for peace - in his country and his own life - was weak.
Something changed on Christmas Day 1964 when Longfellow penned the poem, originally titled "Christmas Bells". Maybe it was the re-election of Abraham Lincoln and, with that, the possible end of the terrible war; maybe it was the relief that came from his son surviving; or maybe it was the churches that - during the war - would ring their bells on Christmas as a call for ceasefire, bringing peace to the nation, if only for a day.
Knowing the history behind the words has made this song become even more beautiful, sorrowful, haunting, and hopeful. In many ways, it is a call for peace. Something we all hope for.
If you haven't already heard them, here are a few of my favorite arrangements of the song:
Casting Crowns, from 'Peace on Earth': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bK8xB1opuQ8
Steven Curtis Chapman, from 'All I Really Want for Christmas' (btw ... the title song, which is about adoption, will bring tears to your eyes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH5dPy0gwD0