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Sorrow at Christmas

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Sorrow at Christmas

In his diary for Christmas Day 1861, he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” In 1862, the toll of war began to mount, and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”

In 1863, his son–who had run away to join the Union army–was severely wounded and came home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.

A new Christmas song is born

Longfellow wanted to pull out of his despair, so he decided to try to capture the joy of Christmas in verse. He began:

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.

As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, goodwill to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother, and father against son?”

God is not dead

But he kept on going, and wrote in the sixth stanza:

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.”

But then, catching an eternal perspective and the real message of Christmas and Christ Himself, he wrote in the final stanza:

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.”

That’s right, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!”

If you want a blessed Christmas Eve tonight, focus on that.

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