This time of year is often one of joy. It is filled with reflection, rejoicing, family, friends and celebrating. It is when those of us who are Christian remember with reverence the Christ child – Jesus, our Savior and our LORD! Yet, it is not always a joyous time for some. This annual event has come to symbolize a reminder of loss and of sorrow for many people. It is a time where the world around them is bouncing with expectation and glee while they can only see what is missing – a lost loved one or perhaps of fond times long gone. The wounds reopen, and no matter how often they think they have come to grips with the pain – this time of year pours salt into it.
If this is you, I am sorry – your sense of loss is real, and it is, well…normal. At least as normal as grieving gets. Please know that you are loved, and we are here to listen if you want. Please also know that, a constant we can look to is God. It may not seem it now, but he is always present and ready to receive your cries.
The consistency of God can be found in many ways. It reminds me of a story Mark Hall of Casting Crowns once told, recounting the story behind the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” This carol originated from “Christmas Bells”, a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was written during the Civil War on Christmas morning in 1863. To set the scene, the battle of Gettysburg was fresh in the minds of all Americans. The cries of 40,000 dead soldiers and their families were embedded on the hearts of the nation. Additionally, Longfellow was mourning the loss of his beloved wife to a tragic accident, two years prior. He tried to save her from a fire that engulfed her dress – but she was burned too badly and passed the next morning. Lastly, Longfellow was dealing with another personal heartbreak. His eldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, was seriously wounded in battle and was now home recuperating.
On Christmas morning in 1863, while sitting at his desk, Longfellow was inspired to write the poem as he listened to the church bells pealing – BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG! Despite the turmoil and despair in the world and his personal life, Longfellow expresses his hope in GOD through these words:
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep
The Wrong shall fail;
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!
Where do you see God today? God’s presence comes in many ways – for Longfellow it was the certainty of the church bells. For some it is the gentle wind, a calming rain or a view into nature where we admire the handiwork of the Creator. For those we encounter daily, perhaps our chaplains are the church bells.
No matter where you find God, he is constant, he is present, he is ready to hear you and he is ready to embrace you.
Amidst chaos and fear, God’s bells are still pealing – BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG!