To Men of Goodwill

Peace on Earth to men of goodwill

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!  This post is about two things.  First, we have a requirement and the ability to be miraculous.  Secondly, I obviously like to talk about stuff I know.  Covering both those topics right off the bat, the current King James translation of the bible quotes the Gospel of Luke in saying “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).  In my confirmation class and later in an elective I was able to take at the Academy I learned that there is a debate about that particular translation and that some scholars suggest the phrase should read “peace on Earth to men of goodwill.”

So what?  Well, I contend that the former of the two phrases actually dumbs down the real intent of the words.  I would suggest that the real meaning is that we have an obligation to put forth good into the world if we expect there to be peace.  Hence the title of the post.  I’m not trying to be overly preachy or anything but with what I’ve seen on my Facebook feed/the news lately it seems to me that a little reminder of that fact is in order.  Beyond being a personal reminder to try not to be too snarky, that particular phrase always takes me to one of my favorite Christmas carols too.  Feel free to press play below.



So yeah, I know it’s just Thanksgiving and most people haven’t even rolled out the turkey bird yet.  Don’t worry, Anita has a hard and fast rule about no Christmas going up until after Thanksgiving.  So, I’ve still got a day before I can bust out the carols anywhere other than here.  Even so, I’ve been thinking about the carol quite a bit lately.  Last Christmas was a bit rough so maybe I just need some holiday cheer a little early.  Anyways, “I Heard the Bells…” has always been one of my favorite carols, probably since I was in school and learned more about its history.  What history you ask?  Let me tell you all about it.

So, as is usually the case I would assume, the carol was first born as a poem.  The poem is “Christmas Bells” by Henry Longfellow one of America’s Fireside Poets and the only American to have a bust in Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.  The poem itself was written on Christmas day in 1864 in the midst of the American Civil War and after a few of the hardest years for the Longfellow family.

Holidays had been difficult in the Longfellow household since the death of Fanny Longfellow a few years previous.  Her dress had caught fire and in an attempt to protect her two young daughters she ran away from them and into Longfellow’s library.  By the time she reached him she was engulfed in flames.  Despite throwing himself on top of her to put out the flames she still passed the next day and Henry was terribly burned as well.  The wild and woolly beard most remember him wearing was a result of the fact that he couldn’t shave after the incident.

On top of the grief of losing his wife the Christmas before writing the poem he received word that his oldest son, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes.  His son survived his wounds but was never the same. With these griefs piling up I imagine his writing was one of his few comforts or at least a distraction.

Before knowing what was happening in his life I never understood the stanza in the song about there being “no peace on Earth”.  It was out of place for a Christmas carol.  However, after learning about the crushing blows he had taken I find it miraculous that he had any hope left at all much less the faith needed to pen the last stanza: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.  The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on Earth, good-will to men.”

So I just thought I would share that.  I don’t know of anyone who couldn’t use a little miraculous from time to time.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Christmas Bells
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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.”

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