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Not long ago I came across the story behind the Christmas hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Morning.” The hymn is based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem written during the Civil War. Obviously, it was a dark time for our nation. Adding to this, Longfellow had just tragically lost his wife and his son had been wounded in the war days before Christmas. Caring for him, Longfellow heard the ringing of church bells on Christmas morning. But for him, there was no peace. All seemed to be collapsing. We hear it in one of his stanzas:
“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!”
We can relate. There’s war in the world. There’s war in our culture. Maybe there’s war in our home. What is the Christian to do? In a word, remember. Remember what?
Longfellow’s next stanza answers:
“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!’”
The deist in us can come out. The error is that God is a distant and uninvolved father. That is a blasphemous claim concerning the one who knows the number of hairs on our head (Luke 12:7) and does not slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:3-4). He is no dead-beat God.
There are some familiar with the phrase, “Long March through the Institutions.” It is attributed to the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and then coined as a succinct mission statement by Marxist student activist Rudi Dutschke in the 1960s.
The phrase is used to describe the intellectual takeover of a society without need to resort to a military conflict. Instead, the strategy focuses on slowly winning over the chief institutions that determine the direction of a culture and thereby creating a soft revolution from within those institutions. So, the focus was on the universities, then the unions, the arts, the K-12 schools, the media, then corporations, and finally society as a whole.
But truth be told, we were given the mandate long before Gramsci and Dutschke. Ours came in Matthew 28, from Jesus to the disciples, just prior to his ascension:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (vs. 19-20).
At this snapshot in time, all appears dark. It seems that their march has been more effective than ours. Not so. Do not let appearance fool you. Instead, listen to the deeper bells, the ones that ring in heaven. “God is not dead; nor doth he sleep! The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Can you hear it? If you are having a difficult time doing so his bells ring most deeply when the church assembles each Lord’s Day. Come and hear them again.
Pastor Rich Hamlin
January 26, 2023