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One of my favourite Christmas carols is one that I’ve only come across recently – ‘I heard the bells on Christmas Day’ by Casting Crowns (hear it on http://vimeo.com/18045268)*. It starts traditionally enough, speaking about listening to ‘old familiar carols’ and wishing ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to men’ (and women!). But it was only this year that I heard the backstory to the song.

At the height of the American Civil War, in 1862, in the second week of December, a bloody battle took place, which left over 50,000 men killed or wounded. This news went unreported, until Christmas Day, when the newspapers listed the names of the dead and wounded. The churches in Washington DC began to ring their bells together, once every 5 seconds for each of the men who lost their lives. In his home, a poet named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard the bells, opened his newspaper and saw his own son’s name. With the bells still ringing, Longfellow wrote the poem, ‘I heard the bells on Christmas Day’. His poem was angry, even bitter, but it ended on a note of hope. That despite death, despite war, the gift and the promise of Christmas, God’s son coming to earth to bring peace and goodwill to men, is a story worth retelling, a hope to hold on to.

God is not dead, nor does He sleep.   The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.

In a year when we remember the outbreak of the First World War, ‘the war to end all wars’, there are stories of loss and bravery, but also stories of reconciliation that give us hope for peace; the Christmas truce of 1914 is one symbolic moment of peace and shared humanity in the midst of one of the most violent events of human history.

My prayer for you this Christmas is for peace, but not a superficial peace that ignores real hurt or loss, hunger or fear, injustice or prejudice. Rather, a peace that acknowledges that the world is broken and imperfect, but continues to hope and to work for a better future.

Peace be with you.
*Thanks to Bill Walker on Vimeo and Wikipedia

Helen Hooley

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    Peter Walker,
    30 Nov 2014, 06:10