I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

12-26-2021Pastor's LetterFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

One of the less sentimental Christmas songs is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. The song is based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day in 1863. His wife had died in a fire two years earlier and his son was a young Lieutenant serving in the Union Army and was badly injured in a battle. Added to this the nation was being torn asunder by civil war so you can understand the pensive and heavy feeling that this song brings with it:

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!”

As this song rolls through my head on this Christmas 2021 I realize that my entire life on this earth has been marked by wars and threats of war. As I look back it does seem to be war without end and no peace on earth. Soon after I was born the Cuban missile crisis took place, followed quickly by the war in Vietnam and then the Cold War. There was a bit of real hope in the 1980’s after the Iron Curtain fell but then quickly came the first terror attacks and eventually 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and back again. On this Christmas day Ukrainian troops are amassed in Eastern Europe staring down the Russian aggression in Ukraine and much of the Pacific Fleet is in the South China Sea rattling sabers to slow China’s aggression. So where is that promised peace on earth?

The only peace on earth lies still in the manager in Bethlehem. The Prince of Peace came into a war torn world, a middle east where unending cycles of conflict was its history and future. The Prince of Peace first came to a place of trouble and suffering. As he became a man he healed the suffering and brought relief to those in pain. The Prince of Peace came to a place where poverty was not the exception but the norm for most. The Prince of Peace came into a world very much like our world. Has it made any difference?

Today where does the Prince of Peace lie? The Prince of Peace lies in the manager of our Churches, in the manager of our homes and in the manager of our hearts. The power of the promise of peace on earth is granted only to people of good will. Peace on earth for now is imparted only to those who receive Him. “He came to his own home and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believe in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Jon 1:12-13)

Peace on earth comes not from the will of man or any other human endeavor, scheme or treaty. Peace on earth comes as a gift from on high to those who would receive it. Peace on earth is found in this child born in straw poverty, defenseless, vulnerable and dependent on the kindness and care of others. Peace on earth comes despite the mocking hatred of war, despite the undignified burden of poverty and the disfiguring hand of suffering. Peace comes to those whose lives are broken, or full of grief, worry or fear and comes to those mourning, suffering loss, loneliness or sickness. The Prince of Peace will always come to places of trouble and suffering for those of good will.

Be of good will. Peace.

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.