Today’s Bible reading

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” — Luke 2:13-15

More thoughts for meditation

Jesus was probably born in September, not December. After Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, the Christianizing powers decided to make the “birth of the sun” celebration into the birth of the Son. So they set the date on December 25. You can read why that date is unlikely for the actual birth here. The holiday was not widely observed until the 400’s, so it is not connected to practices in the early church.

Nevertheless, it has become the focus of the Advent season, which begins the church calendar. Today the “twelve days of Christmas” begin, leading up to the day of Epiphany, when we mark the revelation of King Jesus to the wise men.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you are reading today, you must be seeking a moment to pray and reflect in the middle of all your togetherness or all your aloneness. We are praying in the middle of a world always on the brink of disaster. We are praying with fellow believers having babies and losing babies, celebrating the joys of family and seeing their families destroyed in Aleppo and Southern Sudan.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1868.jpgWe can also pray with the famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (18071882), whose poem “Christmas Bells” was put into song. It reflects his own struggle to deal with his difficult experiences and still welcome the joy of Christmas Day.

During the American Civil War, Longfellow’s oldest son Charles Appleton Longfellow joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father’s blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter after Charles had left. It read, “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer. I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good.” Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, after nine months in the army, he was severely wounded. Longfellow was still grieving the tragic accidental death of his wife, whose dress caught on fire, as he nursed his son on Christmas Day, listening to the bells in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the middle of it all, Longfellow was inspired to write “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 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!

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.”

Casting Crowns created an updated version of the traditional melody put to Longfellow’s words in 2007