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!
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.”
On Christmas Eve, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words while still mourning his wife’s death and aiding with his son who had been wounded in the Civil War. These words ring of comfort, hope, and peace. To a war-torn audience from the already famous poet, Longfellow’s poem landed upon lives desperately needy of the hope echoed though each line.
Only, the peace Longfellow alludes to rings hollow. You see, he was not a believer in Jesus. His Unitarian beliefs did not grapple with a world fallen into the throws of great sin requiring a great Savior. He looked hopefully to the mountain side on the night of Jesus’ birth to grasp the powerful words, “Peace on earth, good will to men!” yet tragically stopped short in his own life to look further into the manger where the One bringing that peace was born. He stopped short of Jesus.
The shepherds who received good news of great joy that night on a quiet hillside didn’t stop short of Jesus. They heard every word the angels proclaimed that joyful night and rushed to the manger to find the King born in a lowly stable. The Wise Men who journeyed from a distant land didn’t stop short of Jesus. An arduous journey and a deceptive king did not keep them from finding and worshipping the King and Savior.
Unfortunately, like Longfellow, many today stop short of Jesus each Christmas season. The commercialization of Christmas distracts too many from the true Gift born over 2000 years ago and laid into a humble manger. The woeful need for “peace on earth” when so much unrest exists discourages many others from looking for the One God promised to bring it. Still others, just like Longfellow, crave the promise of peace but refuse to see that Peace has a name–Jesus!
Please don’t stop short of Jesus this Christmas. Don’t miss the greatest Gift. Don’t settle for hollow hope. Don’t be satisfied with mere pieces of peace. Don’t hold to only morsels of the message. Listen to all of it.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
Peace has a name. Jesus. Don’t stop short of Him!