Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
December 24th, 2015 by Joel Watts

The Politicization of Christmas – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Repost – 2015)

Illustration for the poem "A Psalm of Lif...
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A historical hymn, perhaps, and one not generally one sung in the South, it was political weapon used in the War Between the States. Written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in response to the anxiousness he felt at hearing about the injures of which his son had suffered in the war. In a deeply emotional state, he decided to use the approaching Christmas season to castigate the brothers who fought one another in a war which claimed over 600,000 lives.

It is a powerful song still yet, when we remember the men and women still in uniform, the hungry children, the angry masses, the hateful speech of me and you.

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.”

Historical Note: Stan­zas 4-5 speak of the bat­tle, and are usual­ly omit­ted from hymn­als:

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.


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Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


2 Responses to “The Politicization of Christmas – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Repost – 2015)”
  1. We sang this hymn last night at church, though our hymnal did not have the last two stanzas.

  2. It was my mother’s favorite. She learned to play it and sing it in Hope, Arkansas during World War II, which began when she was six and ended just before she turned 10. It was in the Southern Baptist’s hymnal by the 1940s.

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