When someone greets me at the kettle stand by saying, “I know it’s Christmas when I hear the ringing bells and see the Salvation Army Christmas kettle,” my mind quickly flashes back to a street corner in a northern Ontario town. As a teenager, standing by the kettle in Sudbury in sub-freezing temperatures, I quickly discovered that the only way to keep warm was to enthusiastically ring those bells. Six hours after the shift had ended, when I was home trying to warm up, wrapped in a blanket and drinking hot chocolate, I could still hear those ringing bells.

Ringing bells have long been part of the sounds of Christmas. In 1865, the year The Salvation Army began, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published the poem, Christmas Bells, which later became the well-known carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Written while still grieving the tragic death of his wife, the poem reflects the narrator’s despair upon hearing Christmas bells during the American Civil War, in which his son has been seriously wounded:

    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.”

In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, we are taken to the hills outside of Bethlehem. Here, following the announcement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus, “ … there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’ ” (Luke 2:13-14 NKJV).

Peace. Peace on earth. This baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, would make peace more than a possibility. Peace was now a certainty.

The birth of Jesus brings the gift of peace with God into our lives and into our world. It also brings peace in our relationships. The message of the angel choir bridges heaven and earth. God, who “is not dead, nor doth he sleep,” as Longfellow declares, is glorified in this moment as heaven touches earth in the birth of Jesus.

More than 50 years after the release of Bing Crosby’s I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, the contemporary Christian music group, Casting Crowns, recorded the carol again. This time, they included a verse left out of Crosby’s version. Reminded that the message of Christmas confirms that “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail,” the new version continues:

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.

This Christmas season, there is so much, for so many, that seems uncertain. Peace has become the missing piece. Routines and schedules are anything but routine or scheduled. What the next day may bring is almost as unclear as what day it is. For many, the hope is simply that a new day will follow the night.

By the divine design of God, who created, preserves and governs, the world will continue to rotate on its axis. And so, day does continue to follow night. Day after night, day after night.

It is into this world, with its times of darkness and seemingly unending night, that the message of Isaiah brings hope. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2 NKJV). This babe, born in Bethlehem, is the dawning light, the Light of the World. Heaven has touched the world and it will never be the same, “revolved from night to day.”

This Christmas, let us ring out the message: “A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, goodwill to men.” May it be so, that those in our communities know it is Christmas when they hear the bells and embrace the invitation to walk in the light of God’s love.

    Son of God, Son of Man,
        Word of God incarnate;
    Suffering Saviour,
        glorious risen Lord.
    For God so loved the world,
        he gave his only Son;
    No more we walk in darkness, the
        light has come. (SASB 133)

Commissioner Floyd TiddCommissioner Floyd Tidd is the territorial commander of the Canada and Bermuda Territory.

Photo: Kevin Smart/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images Plus

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