[Symbol] – Bells
[A Symbol related Story]
The Bells of Hope
A beloved Christmas carol, written by a man lost in despair, directs us to remember the living God who sent His Son.
By Dave Boehi
Christmas was not a happy time for him.
His country was embroiled in a war he hated. His own son had returned home with severe wounds.
He also grieved deeply for his beloved wife, who had died after a freak accident in their home two years before. On the first Christmas after losing her, he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” Six months later he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”
Indeed, the very idea of “peace on earth”—proclaimed by the angels upon Christ’s birth and echoed by the church bells he heard on Christmas Day—seemed like a terrible joke.
And so on Christmas Day in 1863, with the American Civil War still raging, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called “Christmas Bells.”
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!
Today we know these words from the song that was inspired by Longfellow’s poem: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Two of Longfellow’s verses, referring to the Civil War, do not appear in the song:
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, goodwill 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, goodwill to men!
Longfellow’s next verse, which does appear in the song, may be the saddest words I’ve seen in a Christmas carol. They reflect the misery of a man who felt no hope:
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, goodwill to men!”
Fortunately the poem does not end there. For somehow the Christmas bells that morning reminded Longfellow of a deeper truth:
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, goodwill to men!”
When life goes wrong
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is one of my favourite carols because it is so honest and yet, in the end, so full of hope.
We all face times when life goes wrong and we feel despair. The despair after the death of a loved one, or the despair that accompanies a life-threatening disease. The despair of a marriage relationship that has drifted into isolation. The despair of a child who rejects everything you believe. The despair of a problem at work that you can’t solve, or a career that feels like it’s going nowhere. The despair of feeling powerless to break free of a secret sin.
Longfellow’s dark cloud began to lift when he chose to focus on the fact that God is alive, that He is sovereign and has a greater plan than we can understand. We will never see the type of “peace on earth” that so many long for, because the heart of man remains unchanged. But we can experience peace in our hearts when we put our faith and trust in the God who created the universe. I think that’s the kind of peace Longfellow finally experienced.
It’s the same truth that the biblical character Job understood after losing everything he had. In the end he realized he needed to put his trust totally in God. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted,” he told God. “… Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2, 3b).
Choosing to trust God
Over the years I’ve interviewed a number of married couples who have experienced the type of hardships that doom many relationships—financial difficulties, death of a child, debilitating disease, and more. They all faced a crisis of faith, when they had to come to terms with the fact that life was not going to be as they had envisioned. They only experienced healing and peace when they acknowledged their trust in the God who created them and had a plan for their lives.
One husband, overwhelmed with the reality of raising a child with special needs and the pressure it was putting on his marriage, said, “I remember praying in the midst of my tears, Lord, I have nothing to believe in if I can’t believe You are good and You are sovereign. I’m not sure I feel that, but if it’s not true, then what’s life about? I am going to choose to believe that You would not allow anything but good to come into my life.”
On that December morning in 1863, Longfellow recognized these same truths, that “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.” Christmas reminds us that God demonstrated His goodness and sovereignty by sending His Son to live on earth and pay the penalty for our sin so that we could experience true peace with God. As Romans 5:8 tells us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God reached down to a world of despair and gave it hope.
Then ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!
[Song] Bell Carols
[Scripture] 3 Nephi 27:9
Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you;
[Challenge – Pray] – Bells have many uses. They ring to remind people to come to church, to warn of danger, or to celebrate happy events and holidays like Christmas. Bells also have many meanings. Bells are a symbol of creativity and of harmony. They are also a symbol of communication, or prayers, between God and His children. Bells remind us to pray to our Heavenly Father and to listen for when He calls us to come unto Him.
[Story relating to the challenge]
Saved by a Prayer at Christmas
By Jerry Borrowman
The dream was always the same. I’d find myself lying in the middle of the street in front of our house on Hawthorne Avenue in Pocatello, Idaho. It’s as vivid in my mind today as it was a half century ago when the dream repeated itself on multiple occasions. I was lying facedown, looking up the street (we lived on a hill), while feeling the pavement pressing against my body and hands. At first it was not unpleasant; in fact, the pavement was warm and supportive. But then something alerted me, and I looked to see a car coming down the street directly toward me. I pressed down with my hands so I could get up and run, but my arms were not strong enough to make me move. Frantic, since the car wasn’t slowing, I struggled to crawl out of its way, straining with all the strength in my legs, but they wouldn’t move either. It was as if I was glued to the pavement! The car was getting closer and closer, and I tried to scream, but all that came out was a gurgling sort of strangled sound, certainly not enough to alert the driver. As the car was almost upon me, my heart pounded and the terror was so intense that the panic woke me!
Each time this happened, my eyes would fly open, and I’d find myself gasping for breath in the midst of a cold sweat. Lying in the dark, I’d take deep breaths to slow my breathing while wondering what it meant—was I going to die? Was this prophesy or just a bad dream? At the age of nine, dreams somehow seemed significant; they must mean something. But I had no idea what.
Christmas Season 1962
In our family, the Christmas season extended from roughly December 10, when we put up the Christmas tree, to January 1, when we took it down. In between was where the magic occurred—colored lights and decorations, presents appearing under the Christmas tree, ward and school Christmas parties, and snow and icicles. Having moved just a few months earlier from the small town of Blackfoot, Idaho (population 8,000), to the metropolis of Pocatello, Idaho (population 50,000), this was our first Christmas in a new house and a new neighborhood. I’d made some friends, but it was still all a bit strange, and I looked forward to the familiar traditions of Christmas.
Like most families, we had our holiday rituals. One of my favorites was that we got to open one present on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. And one of the nice innovations of our new house was a fireplace, so for the first time in my life, we had a roaring wood fire on Christmas morning, which I loved. This particular year, our family was fairly spread out, with one brother serving a mission and another finishing high school where we used to live, so most of the celebrating fell to my parents, my brother Wayne, and me.
The best part of Christmas for me was when we got in the car to go north to Idaho Falls, where my father’s parents lived, and a little farther north to Rigby, where my mother’s parents lived. We sometimes made this trip on Christmas Day, but sometimes it was the day after.
This was the part of the season where, if I played my cards right, I could stay in Rigby for a few days to visit my cousin Mark, one of my favorite people in the world. Mark was just a month or two younger than me and was of a very different but complementary temperament, and as nine-year-olds, we loved making our plans in secret and exploring the world on our own. Rigby, as it turned out, was about the perfect place to make that all happen.
Rigby was fairly rural, even smaller than Blackfoot, and Mark’s father, Uncle Arthur, owned Valley Builders Supply lumberyard with my other uncle Harley. Giving us unrestricted access to a lumberyard with all its mechanized equipment, trucks, and nooks and crannies was like giving us access to free soda pop—we were in full hypermode the whole time we were together. Since everybody in Rigby knew everybody else in Rigby, there was no fear of strangers or kids getting lost, so no one paid particular attention to where we were, except in the morning and in the evening when we were supposed to be at home. I loved the freedom! And I loved having it with Mark.
Well, in 1962 I was able to persuade my parents to let me stay with Mark until the day before New Year’s. My mom was a little sad since it meant I would not be home on my birthday. But I promised her I would be every bit as happy in Rigby as I would be at home—happier, in fact, since I was well known there as opposed to being the new kid in Pocatello. I’m also convinced that there was more snow in 1962 than there is today. In Rigby, there were places where the snow drifts hit four or five feet high on the sides of the road. But that didn’t deter Mark and me as we walked about town in overshoes and heavy coats and gloves. I can still see the frost from our breath and feel the bite of the cold north wind as it cut into our unprotected cheeks. We were alive! The future was bright, and the present was ours to enjoy.
The Dream Becomes Real
I’m not a particularly mystical person, although I do have a good imagination. But there was nothing imaginary about the real-life fulfillment of my nightmare as Mark and I were making our way to the lumberyard on one of those days of my Christmas vacation in 1962. On this particular day, since Valley Builders was probably three-quarters of a mile from Mark’s house, we decided to take turns pulling each other on a sled since all the streets were covered in ice. I had taken my turn pulling Mark and had finally insisted that he take a turn pulling me, so he got up off the sled, and I sat on it facing forward. We were taking a back street to avoid traffic, and Mark moved out into the center of the street to find the best path on the ice. He was pulling at a pretty strong pace, concentrating on the road in front of him. I was daydreaming on the sled, thinking what a great innovation this was and wondering why more people didn’t travel this way, when I heard a noise behind me. Turning around casually, I saw a car bearing down on us and not slowing. The driver actually had a frantic look on his face, which told me he couldn’t stop on the ice. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as an electric shock passed through my body. I shouted at Mark, who immediately turned to see the danger. He jerked on the sled as he moved to get out of the way—an action that caused me to fall off the sled backward, turning me over on my stomach, where I looked up at the approaching car with my hands out in front of me, my legs behind me, and the icy pavement pressing up against me. This was my dream—my nightmare!
My body reacted the same way in real life as it did in the dream—my heart started pounding, and I started breathing quickly. I could clearly see the driver’s face, and it was obvious that he was scared to death since his pumping his brakes wasn’t slowing the car at all. I tried pressing with my hands and arms to get up, but it was too slick to get any traction. I tried pressing with my legs so I could crawl out of the way, but I couldn’t get my feet to bite into the ice. The car was upon me, except that this time I couldn’t just wake up from the dream—it was happening in real life, and I was about to be run over.
Perhaps it was my Primary training or just the sheer desperation that I felt, but at that moment, in the first variation from the dream, I said a prayer. “Heavenly Father, please help me know what to do!” There wasn’t a lot of time, but I distinctly had the impression, in very clear words in my mind, to roll over! That was it—roll over. And I did. While I couldn’t get the traction needed to stand up or crawl, I could twist my body over and over until I had rolled out of the way of the car, which slid past me like a giant dark monster with the driver pounding the steering wheel in anger and relief. It was over in an instant, and I had been saved by fewer than three seconds. Any hesitation and I would have been hit.
As I lay by the side of the road, I did my best to calm my pounding heart and then looked up to make sure Mark was okay. He was, and he was hurrying back to help me with a shocked look on his face as well. I took Mark’s hand as he helped pull me up to a standing position. My legs felt like jelly, but I was also really happy to be alive.
The driver stopped and got out to yell at us for being stupid enough to go down the middle of an icy street, but I think even he could see that that wasn’t what we needed just then. He got back in his car and rolled slowly away, and we started walking side-by-side on the edge of the road, pulling the empty sled behind us. I wasn’t up to taking any more chances that day.
No More Dreams
I’m pretty sure I never told my mom and dad about that incident—it could have messed up future opportunities to stay with Mark and his family. I did think about it a lot at the time and have occasionally through the years since then. I appreciated that if ever there was an answer to a prayer, this was it. In all the dreams of my lying on the street in front of my house, I had never thought to roll. It was a problem I couldn’t figure my own way out of. But a very quick prayer solved the problem. Remarkably, I never had that dream again. Who knew that my unusual nightmare would turn into a Christmas miracle that saved my life and made the future possible?
I thought of all this a few days after Christmas 2014 when my brother David and I drove our ninety-six-year-old mother from our homes in Salt Lake City to Idaho Falls so she could spend a few weeks with her ninety-three-year-old sister, Jeanette, and her one-hundred-three-year-old brother, Arthur. We met at a local restaurant where five of my cousins came to see Aunt Geneva and two of her four boys. I should add that my car, an all-wheel drive Subaru, had trouble getting traction on the ice-covered parking lot of the restaurant. Mark was there with his wife, and he’s still a handsome and vital guy, and I’m still drawn to his understated personality.
I am glad I experienced Christmas 1962—the year that could have been my last. I’m thankful prayers are answered and that life is an abundant adventure—unique to each of us but shared. I give this story to you in the hope that your prayers will be answered at Christmas and all through the years as well.
Media link: [Jesus Prayed for others and so can you]
10th Anniversary Advent Throw-Back :
[A Favourite from Previous Advents]
Let the Bells ring with Cheer, at this glorious time of year.
For telling the wondrous tale, Our Saviour, Lord and King we Hail.
For with each chime our hearts will hear the peal of love within our ears.
For Christ was born, the infant king, our deliverer of whom we sing.
[Colouring Page] – Right Click to Save.