Thursday, December 06, 2012

Advent Day Five: wild and sweet the words repeat

Today, December 6, is the 23rd anniversary of the massacre of 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.  Somehow I felt it was appropriate to acknowledge that in this blog series.  I've never gone to any of the events surrounding this commemoration in the past -- maybe because some of the tributes have, to me, seemed bizarre and even ridiculous, such as singing the names of the 14 women to the tune of "Brahms' Lullaby."  Yet I believe it's important to remember that violence against women still occurs worldwide on a minute-by-minute basis; the Polytechnique tragedy is just one of many instances. but one that seemed to particularly take hold of the Canadian consciousness because of its shocking senselessness and because of Marc Lepine's deliberate selection of women to kill.

This carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," recognizes the fact that when we look around us, it often doesn't seem as if the Christmas message has brought any peace to our world.  Yet if we believe in God, we have to reject despair, believing that light overcomes darkness, good  defeats evil, love destroys hate.  This may sound a bit simplistic and pie-in-the-sky; even the last verse of the carol seems somewhat pat.  Yet I always find this carol encouraging because it gives me the assurance that there is -- in C.S. Lewis's words -- a "deeper magic" working in our world than the horrific events we may see happening.  As a Christian I trust that this deeper magic relates directly to the Christmas message:  that the coming of Jesus to earth, His death and resurrection, actually dealt directly with the evil that seems so pervasive.

The Dec. 6 commemorations remind us that things like the Montreal tragedy are not the way things are supposed to be.  So candles are lit, and yes, even hokey songs like "Brahms' Lullaby" are sung, to mourn sorrowful events but also to affirm that life is more powerful than death.


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.

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

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."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.


  1. Hands down, this is my favorite Christmas carol. Too often, December is a difficult month for me for various reasons. Bad memories, depression, the relentless forced cheeriness of everything from school functions to store displays. Like Longfellow (who wrote the poem after the loss of his wife and the wounding of his son in battle), I feel like everything is horrible. How are we supposed to be proclaiming peace in a world that is clearly not peaceful, where everything is clearly wrong? But I take comfort in the words of that fourth verse: God is not dead.

    BTW, I hadn't known about the massacre in Canada. I looked it up. How horrible!

    1. This carol fits so well with your post today too, Laura, about Father Christmas returning to Narnia -- that hint of hopefulness that comes in the midst of a time of despair, signaling that God (Aslan) is moving and at work. That message never loses its relevance.

  2. Amen! There is, indeed, a deep magic at work even though such disturbing things happen in our world. I love that thought.

    1. Thanks, Betsy - I always appreciate your stopping by to read and comment.


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