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THE HERALD

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Rev. Stephen Snodgrass

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Peace on Earth...Good Will To Men

One of America's greatest poets was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The year was 1860, and
it found Longfellow happy in his life and happy with the recent election of Abraham Lincoln which he believed signaled the triumph of freedom and redemption for the nation.
The following year, the Civil War began. On July 9, 1861, Longfellow's wife, Fanny, was near an open window sealing locks of their daughter's hair, using hot sealing wax. Suddenly her dress caught fire and engulfed her with flames. Longfellow, sleeping in the next room, was awakened by her screams. As he desperately tried to put out the fire and save his wife, he was severely burned on his face and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next day.

Longfellow’s severe burns would not even allow him to attend Fanny’s funeral. In his diary for Christmas Day, 1861, he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.”
In 1862, the toll of war dead began to mount, and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote of Christmas, “A merry Christmas, say the children, but that is no more for me.” In 1863, his son, who had run away to join the Union army, was severely wounded and returned home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.
But on Christmas Day, 1864, at age 57, Longfellow sat down to try to capture, if possible, the joy of the season. He began: 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.
As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, good will to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?” But he kept writing. 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.
Longfellow closes his song by turning his eyes to the Prince of Peace and wrote, Then peeled 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.”
As the poet wrote, it is a comfort to know that even though our world may be filled with turmoil and terror, the Christian can, “let the peace of God rule” in their hearts. May each of you have a blessed Christmas, and may you experience the peace that He gives. SRS


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