Good Will to Men
On Christmas Day in 1863, a year after his son was severely
wounded in the bloody American Civil War, Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow wrote a poem, â€œChristmas Bells.â€� A decade
later the poem was set to music composed by John Baptiste Calkin,
becoming a Christmas carol we still sing, â€œI Heard the Bells on
Christmas Day.â€� These are some of the words:
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 in despair I bowed my head
â€˜There is no peace on earth,â€™ I said,
â€˜For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.â€™
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
â€˜God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.â€™
The Civil War divided the country and its people, even family
members. A later American poet, Robert Frost, wrote about that
sort of division, â€œSomething there is that doesnâ€™t love a wall.
God doesnâ€™t love a wall. He doesnâ€™t like the barriers we
build between ourselves and others--barriers of gender, race,
socioeconomic status, religion. God wants us to get along with
those around us--with people in general, with those closest to us
who are often the hardest to love, even with our enemies.
At the end of World War II, Berlin was divided into four sectors--
the American, British, French and Soviet. Then, in 1961, a wall
surrounding the three western sectors was conceived by the East
Germans and supported by the Soviets. The city and its people,
even families, were separated by 96 miles of barbed wire and
concrete averaging 11.8 feet in height.
Two American presidents spoke against the wall. In 1963, John F.
Kennedy identified with the split city by declaring â€œI am a
Berliner.â€� Then, in 1987, Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviet
leader Gorbachev to â€œtear down this wall.â€� Finally, in 1989,
the wall was breached to international celebration, and the Cold
War came to an end.
Now both Israel and the United States are building walls to keep
out their neighbors. Again, these walls separate families, keep
workers from their jobs and farmers from their markets.
Jesus came to tear down the walls that separate us from each
other. â€œFor he himself is our peace, who has made the two one
and destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostilityâ€�
Jesus himself is peace, and he came to bring peace in all our
relationships. He wants us to have loving relationships in our
families and in our church families. He wants us to work well with
our bosses and coworkers and employees. He wants us to get
along with our neighbors and friends and those difficult people in all
â€œSomething there is that doesnâ€™t love a wall,â€� whether it
divides a nation, a city, or each of us as individuals from those we
should be living with and loving in peace and good will.