Read on for the fourth installment in our Advent series. This time we hear from Peter Rowan, campus pastor at Reformed University Fellowship at VCU. Without any doubt, this year the cries of our Advent songs sing loud. That’s not debated. Shootings on either side of our country, a infant from our own congregation continuing his young life in the hospital, and the wondering if this year --of all years--all of the longings of a festive time without family feuds will come about call for us to cry aloud with our Advent songs. These are just a few reasons we sing out. There are more, no doubt, that all of us could list, but let’s stop here. Not to put aside these things. Not to forget them. Not to fool ourselves that there are no more. But because it is Christmas Eve.
You see, the great question of religion is twofold. First, is there a god? Does he exist? The second part, does he care? Does he have any clue what we are going through and will he do anything about it? In the Bible these great questions often find their answers in the form of songs. From the songs of Moses and Mariam to the tambourines and loud crashing symbols of Psalm 150 through to the songs of Mary and the heavenly hosts and the loud trumpets of Revelation, the singing answer of the Bible to these deep questions is a resounding “He does! He does! He does! He does!”.
Some of you might know that I’m a complete sucker for Advent songs and Christmas carols. I know, not all of you are. That’s alright. But I love them all, right from “Low, How a Rose E’er Blooming” strait through to “Jingle Bells” and, maybe especially, “Good King Wenceslaus”. There are some that we sing more loudly some years and as we grow older some resonate with us more deeply. In search of giving voice to the emotions of this tragic season, I was reading through many of the carols we don’t tend to sing and came across the lyrics of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Longfellow wrote the poem near the end of the Civil War during which he lost his son to battle and his second wife (the first had died during a miscarriage) to sustained burns after her dress had caught fire. The grief was so deep that he nearly stopped writing poetry and moved his attention more toward his translating endeavors. As I read the poem through, the last two stanzas of this poem stuck particularly deep:
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.”
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.”
Though not a devout follower of the Lord Jesus, I think Longfellow has something very important to tell us. There were a multitude of heavenly angels declaring the glory and peace of God when our savior was born. In the midst of the tragedies of this month, in the midst of your own wondering if God is there and if he cares, let the bells peal more loud and deep and let the angels say once again that he does, he does! The incarnation of the Christ child who is now enthroned in the heavens and will one day come with glory to judge the living and the dead is the great declaration that the God of the Bible is no God who sits far off but one who takes on flesh that you and I might know a day when the pains of this world will be no more. Sing these songs with me.