I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Read: Psalm 130

I wait for the Lord . . . and in his word I hope. (v. 5)

”I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is a poem written by one of the most popular poets in 19th-century America, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The first line tells us the circumstances of the poem’s composition, but the key to its message lies in the year it was written—1864. On the Christmas day when Longfellow heard the church bells in Boston “their old familiar carols play,” the American Civil War was in its fourth year, and Longfellow felt the ironic contrast between the Christmas message of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” and the horrors of that fratricidal conflict. But as he listened to the bells, suddenly the Christmas gospel felt stronger to Longfellow than the hatred and killing of the battlefields. 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, goodwill to men.”

One of the hardest lessons Advent has to teach us is that we need to wait—to wait for the Lord to make good on his promises. We wait with longing; as the psalmist says, we look for the Lord’s coming the way night watchmen look for the morning. We wait by not giving in to despair at the brokenness of the world or of our own lives. We wait even when it seems like we’re making little progress toward the prophesied shalom of God’s kingdom. With the psalmist, we wait in hope, because we believe God’s word is true, and trustworthy.

As you pray, ask God to help you wait in hope.

Listen along: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day – Casting Crowns

About the Author

david bast

Rev. Dave Bast retired as the President and Broadcast Minister of Words of Hope in January 2017, after 23 years with the ministry. Prior to his ministry and work at Words of Hope, Dave served as a pastor for 18 years in congregations in the Reformed Church in America. He is the author of several devotional books. A graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, he has also studied at both the Fuller and Calvin seminaries. Dave and his wife, Betty Jo, have four children and four grandchildren. Dave enjoys reading, growing tomatoes, and avidly follows the Detroit Tigers.

This entry is part 2 of 25 in the series Carols and Lessons