Pictures of giddy children posed in front of the Christmas tree, snapshots of families at sunset on winter vacations, selfies of siblings piled on the couch embracing one another with beaming smiles, and photos of houses full of relatives. For most, any of these pictures would spark a sense of holiday cheer. But for some of us… for some of us it’s hard. Because for some of us, this is when Christmas hurts.
Because for some of us, this is what we don’t have.
Now please, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want another family. No, I don’t need anyone different to be related to. It’s just that with my family, like many of yours out there, there comes a lot of pain that didn’t used to be; dysfunction, disintegrated relationships, disagreements, depression, and when we are together, we are a room full of strangers. And while I know that this pain has made us who we are, that doesn’t mean I wish it had to be there. Because it’s there at every turn.
What I want is a little bit of hope this Christmas.
And a little peace on earth in the hearts of my family.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, composer of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” begged for the same peace in his own heart on Christmas Day in 1893. After tragically losing his wife just two years prior to severe burns she received when her dress had caught fire and then getting the news that his son had been seriously wounded in the war, the widowed father of six sat down to express the pain and agony that filled his heart that Christmas morning.
“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.'”
This year, as it has for many years in the past, hate seems to be winning in my family. Anything that is “good” seems to be washed away by the bad and the messy that has crept in. And at Christmas, as Mr. Longfellow so perfectly stated, this hate mocks peace and goodness; it seems to slap us in the face.
But then Longfellow continued; his lamenting took a sudden turn and the quiet hope he found in his heart turned into a triumphant shout of truth. And it’s that truth that this year I am clinging to as I sit on my living room floor and weep for the souls of my family.
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.'”
Did you hear that, hurting friend? God isn’t absent in our pain. Years before we were even on this earth, He saw us here today in our heartache. He saw Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He saw all of mankind for all time. And He acted; He sent Jesus that Christmas Day so many years ago. Jesus, the greatest peace, the greatest goodness, the greatest victory over pain.
Christ is near. Emmanuel. God with us.
So this Christmas as you gather in your room full of strangers or as you sit in the loneliness of your home, I urge you to take a moment to follow after Longfellow’s lead and choose to hear the bells in your own heart. They may start softly in the distance, but if you listen hard enough the true Spirit of Christmas, Jesus, will chime through the dark and His hope will prevail.