A few days of Xmas songs (3 — no peace)

This 3rd Xmas songs instalment (I like that old spelling; it used to be correct) is for left-brained folks who are possibly partially politically motivated these days, yet who are faithful and who believe in the reality of God’s Kingdom.

I’m normally not one for deep poetry — it takes too much work for the gain.  I love great words, too, yet for me, interpreting poetry can be like the labor involved in eating seasoned, Maryland crabs . . . I mean, there are so many good foods out there — why choose one I have to work so hard for?  In recognition of its being the inspiring favorite of my old friend Paul G., I’m spotlighting this song.

This poem is probably more than I bargained for:  I hadn’t realized it was written by one recognized as a literary master.  But, there his name was, and here’s the song.  (OK, I’ll stop complaining — it’s not that difficult to interpret. . . .)

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 along the 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.

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.”

[ ² ]

 – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

So, what do these lines have for us?  Leave the rampant Xmas sappiness of chestnuts roasting and being “home for Christmas” aside, and hearken to the angels’ song that night:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!  (Luke 2:14, ESV)

We might encapsulate the incarnation of God in the concept of peace . . . 

Those angels sang about it.  Jesus deeply personified it throughout His 30+ years.  Paul enjoined it in writing to the Galatians in approximately 18 years later.  Paul also thoroughly treated the concept in writing to the Ephesians another 12-14 years after that.  In fact, 13 of Paul’s letters mention peace; it is no throwaway.  Here are a few highlights:

  • For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. . . .  (Romans)
  • . . . for God is not a God of confusion but ofpeace, as in all the churches of the saints.  (I Corinthians)
  • And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians)
  • For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall. . . . (Ephesians)
  • Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  (Colossians)

Yet, as Longfellow knew, there is no peace on earth.  (I would add that that’s the permanent, even intended, status quo.)  There is no peace in church — seems there’s always someone strugglin’ w/someone else — mostly passive-aggressively.  While I personally have never had a really bad neighbor (I have had some with annoying dogs and cats), I know that the peaceful existence of many is impinged upon by neighbors.  Work scenaria may involve substantial unrest.  Even the families that are supposed to be havens of peace may be dens of disturbance.  Lack of peace is all around.

The peace of God is no ephemeral idea.  I learned years ago that biblical peace is more than a simple “absence of conflict.”  While study of the Jewish concept of “shalom” presumably illuminates some of the peace-ology in Paul’s letters, I am not adequate to treat all this.  Whatever your take on the Gaza Strip or Afghanistan or Tiananmen Square, or even on the Crusades, WWII, etc., it’s indisputable that peace wasn’t/isn’t involved.  A mere glance at a few centuries’ records reveals that national peace is not long-lived.  Moreover, church splits and neighbor squabbles and all manner of interpersonal tensions combine to form a choir with a million shrieking sopranos:  humankind has not internalized the peace of the Christ!

I am convinced of at least three things related to peace:

First — that peace is no shallow, simple concept.

Second — that it is elusive, not to be a lasting feature of life on earth, ever.

And third — that it is the desire and the purpose of God to bring peace, ultimately, by and through His Son and His spiritual dominion in eternity.

If I hope for lasting peace among this world’s geopolitical entities, I will perpetually be disappointed.  It is eternal peace which God will provide.


¹ All ya’all Christians who think “Xmas” spelling is taking Christ out of Christmas, think again.  I’m a Christian who realizes that’s not necessarily the case– although I have no particular concerns with making Christmas a Christian thing.

² There are two other stanzas — less “poetic” to my ear, but replete with history and meaning.  The words were written during the Civil War, and the stark realities of that horrific time come through in the somewhat more harsh words of these other stanzas.


2 thoughts on “A few days of Xmas songs (3 — no peace)

  1. Susan Peterson 12/25/2013 / 7:59 pm

    This is one of my favorite of the Christmas songs which can be found in a hymnal (I find a need to categorize my favorites, as there are often too many). I sang it with worship team at church this past Sunday, in a version created/recorded by Casting Crowns. I think I favor it because it makes a connection between the Christmas holy-day and the day(s) which follow. Yes, there are still broken things in the world even though we celebrate Christ’s presence here. As someone whose major hobby is finding ways to put into practice what God commands and desires, I gravitate to those things that aid my understanding of what life is like in all the experiences which are not of the mountaintop.

    As a side note, I also appreciate your spelling of instalment. I would find enjoyment in using this spelling as well. I may throw it into casual conversation and see if anyone notices…


    • Brian Casey 12/26/2013 / 7:28 am

      Susan, glad you find this song worthy, as well. There are three groupings that appear impoverished to me: those who avoid making connections between the Christ and the “here and now,” and those who hang out on either side — either the only-God side or the only-world side. Actually, now that I say that, I think they’re not only impoverished; they’re irrational. “Not of the mountaintop” — great expression.


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