I Heard the Bells~ by Fr. Bryan Wolf

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!

We awoke this morning and the world was different. Magical. Joyous. Something special in the air. The sounds of church bells. The sounds of children’s laughter, family chatter and holiday greetings from just about everyone! It is Christmas Day!

There is no other day like Christmas Day. As far back as our childhood memories can take us, Christmas Day is special. A gathering of family and friends. Toys and gifts scattered about hidden beneath mountains of wrapping paper. Smells of pine from the tree mix with tempting smells from the oven. And Christmas carols, everywhere- on the radio and television and overflowing from Church. They sing from my lips, dance in my ears and rejoice in my heart! Wonderful familiar tunes, bringing back more memories of youth and loved ones departed.

I thought as how, this day had come, the belfries of all Christendom- had rolled along the unbroken song- of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Christmas Day! The birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord! Not just in my home or town, but everywhere. Everywhere! Across the globe, in whatever time zone- Christians- “all of Christendom” are like me, celebrating Christmas. The magic and wonder is everywhere. That childish joy and anticipation of the day is everywhere. And everywhere Christians are recalling how the birth of Christ has changed the world. How Christ offers us hope and renewal. How Christ came to live among us, be with us and love us. How Christ came to teach us lessons for life and give us His promise for everlasting life.  All of this possible- all of this promise, from that wondrous birth in the manger at Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago!

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.

Wait, the joy of Christmas? Wars continue. The Middle East, as it has been for decades, is a mess. North Korea and Iran keep popping up into the news threatening the nightmare of nuclear weapons. I also cannot escape the television news coverage of senseless shootings- in our schools, communities and college campuses. I was a police officer for thirty years- I do not understand this violence.

Violence, that word alone is all that is needed to shatter my Christmas joy. Wandering gangs of youth now play a mindless game of hitting strangers to see if they can knock them out with one punch.  I do not understand. A homeless man in Hoboken NJ was recently killed this way.

Homeless, there too another word- another issue to intrude its reality into the joy of my Christmas. There is no media coverage here. Thousands spend this Christmas without homes, hot meals or the simplest comfort.  How can I go around singing about joy, peace and good will?  It is almost as if I can hear Satan himself laughing in ridicule- “for hate is strong and mocks the song…”  “Celebrate the birth of your Messiah”  Satan rebukes me, “you have learned nothing from him.”  In despair I bow my head. Where is my compassion? Where is my love? Who is my neighbor? How can I help him?

Then pealed the bless more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor does he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail- with peace on earth, good will to men!

Wait, get thee behind me Satan- God is not dead! God lives! God is here with me- with us now! We are the instruments of His work. It is we who must accomplish Christ’s acts of mercy. It is we who must clothe the naked, feed the hungry and give drink to those who are thirsty- both literally and spiritually. It is we who must pray for and call for, peace. It is we who must demand equality and accountability. God demands these things. God requires us intercede.

So this is the joy of Christmas. I can see Jesus smiling down upon me. He tasks me not to forget the broken of spirit. He invites me to reach out to them- the lost, the lonely, the addicted, the distraught.  Share with them the Good News! That is what His Gospel means, good news! Be not weary or poor of spirit- the angel brings “good news which shall be for all people. That today is born in the town of David, a Savior- he is the Messiah, Christ the Lord.”  (Luke 2:10-11)

So I wish to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ- the most joyous and blessed Christmas Day!  God is not dead, nor does He sleep. He lives with us and through us. Let us go forth from today and into the New Year- with His greatest Christmas gift to us- the Good News which shall be for all people– Christ is born! Christ lives! Christ loves!

…. and on earth, peace and good will to men.  Amen.

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