Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Bells

One of my favorite Christmas songs has always been I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Recently the song became even more meaningful to me when I learned the story behind its words, penned by the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Longfellow started the 1860’s on top of the world. He was happily married, living with his wife and five children in a lovely home on the Cambridge River in Massachusetts. But in 1861, tragedy struck both the nation and the Longfellow family. The opening shots of the Civil War were fired on April 12th, and shortly after, Longfellow’s wife was fatally burned in an accident on July 10th. While melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell on her dress and ignited, wrapping her in flames. Longfellow unsuccessfully attempted to extinguish the flames with a throw rug, and then frantically tried to smother them by throwing his arms around her. Unfortunately his wife died the next morning, and Longfellow was unable to attend her funeral, having suffered severe burns to his face and arms.The first Christmas after his wife’s death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." A year after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace." Longfellow's journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: "'A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me." Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had suffered a severe bullet wound to the spine. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow's journal.

But finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, "Christmas Bells:”

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 thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled alongThe unbroken song
Of 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!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
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!"

I love this poem because it is a reminder that no matter what we suffer, no matter how long we languish in trials and tribulations, we always have hope in Christ. He will bring peace to our lives, and someday, peace to the world.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An Unlikely Childfree Zone

I've got a new post up at Purple Women & Friends called An Unlikely Childfree Zone. It's about NewSpring Church's policy of not allowing children into it's regular worship service. The pastor definitely has an interesting point of view!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Who Stole the Christ from Christmas?

At this time of year, we hear a lot of lamenting from the Christian community about how society has secularized Christmas. They make it sound like some evil secret society got together and hatched a plot to replace Jesus with Santa Claus…or should I say SATAN Claus?

Anyway, I do think society tells us to value material possessions and make sure we’re always a step ahead of our neighbors, and it’s only natural that we exhibit those values during the holidays. But I also think that everyone really wants so much more from Christmas, and it’s evident in the seasonal movies we’ve absorbed into our culture:

It’s a Wonderful Life: By seeing what it would have been like if he’d never been born, a man discovers that his life has meaning and purpose after all.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: When the evil Grinch robs Whoville of all its holiday trimmings and presents, the community unites to discover that Christmas is really all about love.

Miracle on 34th Street: A hardened businesswoman overcomes her skepticism about Santa and decides to believe in the impossible.

A life with meaning, love as the greatest gift, and the hope to believe in miracles – these are the holiday themes we’ve embraced, that we watch over and over again, year after year. The ideals portrayed in these movies are what the world really wants Christmas to be all about. And ironically, Jesus came to make those very things possible.

So forget secularization. When it comes right down to it, I think society is actually desperate to put Christ back in Christmas. It just doesn’t know it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My Dog Don't Know It's Christmas

This is my first Christmas as a dog owner, and apparently, I'm supposed to get him a Christmas present. Multiple friends have expressed surprise that not only did I neglect to hang a stocking for my dog, but I don't plan to wrap any gifts for him either. Call me a scrooge, but he's just a dog! His only thought when he looks at the Christmas Tree is that he wishes he could pee on it - I highly doubt he's looking for a present.

Anyway, I heard a song on XM radio that made me realize I'm not alone in my thinking. I couldn't find a recording to link to, but here are the words:

My Dog Don't Know It's Christmas
by Scott Katz

My dog don't know when it's Christmas
Despite the gift-wrapped chew toys 'round the tree.
You got the dog-star up above, poodle skirts and puppy love,
But there ain't no canine Christianity.

He knows not to piddle on the carpet,
And he knows when he must go to the vet.
He understands a Milkbone and he comprehends a snow-cone,
Yeah, but Jesus is a concept he don't get.

My dog don't know when it’s Christmas.
How could any creature be so naive?
But despite his passivity, re: the nativity
If the lord was a shepherd, he'd believe.

Despite his proclivity to dis the nativity,
If the lord was a shepherd, he'd believe.

So, to all my friends and readers who lavish presents upon your pets at Christmas, I love you dearly and I say if you enjoy it, go right ahead and stuff your personalized dog stockings to the brim! Just make sure your dog doesn't tell my dog - I don't want him to get wise!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Christmas Cheese

Accuse me of blasphemy if you want, but I usually can’t stand going to church around Christmas time. Even though the story of Christ’s birth is probably the most powerful, world-changing passage of scripture ever recorded in any religion, pastors feel the need to put some sort of “creative” spin on it that usually annoys the crap out of me. So I end up sitting through an hour of cheese, I don’t learn anything, and somehow I’m completely unaffected by the birth of the Savior of the entire universe.

But last Sunday, I attended an absolutely amazing Christmas service. It was a paired down, straight-up discussion of the simple truth of Christmas. It managed to be both intellectually and emotionally stimulating. And it hit on a key point that doesn't seem to be particularly popular at this time of year: Christ’s birth means nothing without His death.

If you're like me and this is just the kind of service you've been waiting for, go here and click on “last week’s service” to watch it online. I promise it will be worth your while!