Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.  The themes of Advent are filled with beauty.  Or, rather, they promise beautiful things.  In this season of anticipation, do we simply wait for these promises, or do we create them?  As I think about Peace, I wonder how much we are really doing to ensure its arrival.  Peace on earth, goodwill to all.  We say it, we sing it.  And yet, it eludes us.

This carol was written in 1872 by John B. Calkin, using the words of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Written on Christmas Day in 1863, Longfellow was living in the midst of the American Civil War.  His wife had died in a fire three years earlier, and his eldest son had signed up as a soldier without his father’s blessing, and was subsequently severely injured.  It was a bleak time and these words reflect that.

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 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!

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!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South, 
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will 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, 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.”

The carol as we know it, leaves out some of these verses, but I actually think they are important.  It may be that we are no longer hearing the thundering canons of the South drowning out our voices, but there is much noise that does so equally well.  The words of the second last stanza were powerful in Longfellow’s time, as they are now.  “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men.”  It is difficult to argue with this.  We live in a hate-filled time.  We live in a time of hostility and polarization.  We could embrace diversity and dialogue, but instead we fight to be right with little regard for the impact on our neighbours, our communities, our world.  Hate doesn’t promote peace.  It requires us to lose together; it requires us to both be and create casualties.

The final verse offers some hope.  As I read it, we must peal louder.  For love to prevail over hate, it must be loud and strong.  Love requires us to consider how every daily action is a reflection of its power, or its failure.  Love requires us to understand that peace for the few means no real peace at all – and those of us who live in relative comfort, wealth and safety are, indeed, part of the few.  Love requires us to look beyond ourselves and into the vastness that is this earth, filled with multitudes all seeking the same thing, and find ways to give the peace that we wish for ourselves.  For our acts of peacemaking, be they large or small, collectively become the deeply ringing bells that proclaim again and again:

Peace on earth, goodwill to all.