Sunday, December 15, 2013

Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men

As I went to choir practice today in preparation for our Christmas Service next Sunday one of the songs we practiced is one of my favorite Christmas Carols “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. It is a beautiful carol with a message that is timeless. It reminds us that in spite of hate, war, sickness and chaos that surround us we can have peace. Peace comes to the broken hearted, the downtrodden and those cast away. It comes through Jesus Christ, the one whose birthday we celebrate during this most wonderful time of the year. Here are the words to that song:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

1. 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.
2. I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th'unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
3. 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."
4. 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."
5. 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!
Text: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882
Music: John Baptiste Calkin, 1827-1905

Henry Longfellow penned the words to that song just days after one of his sons was mortally wounded while fighting in the Civil war for the Union Army. It had only bee two years since he lost his wife in a fire that destroyed their home. He was burned as he tried to save her and he suffered a long time and was left a widower with five children. He was able to find peace and comfort in the babe of Bethlehem.

Christmas is a time of peace. Most of us are familiar with the story of how peace broke out on the WWI battlefield between the German and the Allied forces on Christmas day 1914. As the Allied troops were in the trenches on that Christmas day they heard the German’s singing Christmas carols and they joined in. Then they climbed out of their foxholes and met in the middle and exchanged gifts. Here is a video clip that Paul McCartney did where he plays a British soldier meeting himself as a German soldier on that eventful day of peace.

Today all around us are those that are filled with hate and despair. Are we one of them? Have we been on the receiving end of someone’s hate, unkind words or deeds? Have we experienced the loss of a loved one as Longfellow had through war, sickness or accident? We can find peace as we follow the example of our Savior. In a 2006 BYU Devotional address, Julie Franklin spoke of the suffering of Christ and how he rose above it all:

“Jesus Christ, that highly anticipated infant whose birth has been celebrated with the ringing of Christmas bells, is a perfect example for us of how to feel peace and good will. The circumstances of His life were anything but tranquil. His world was politically unstable. He and His family experienced life under Roman rule and a Jewish king who wanted Jesus dead. Jesus was challenged and criticized. He felt hunger, fatigue, sorrow, temptation, and frustration. He was mocked, abandoned, and betrayed. In the world where Jesus lived there were problems in families and people had severe illness, injuries, and tragic losses. Neighbors were not always kind to one another, at times business was bad, salt lost its savor, and occasionally folks ran out of refreshments during wedding receptions; and yet every incident we have recorded of the Savior’s life points to a life of peace.
“When Christ was in situations where He was challenged, confronted, or pestered, we read of a man who stood firm and unshaken. When He rebuked individuals who needed correction, His words were measured and delivered with the precise level of emotion to bring about the desired result. During the events leading to the Crucifixion, Jesus Christ did not shrink. I love the account where Christ was taken into custody and Peter, the loyal Apostle, drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Jesus did not use the opportunity to run, nor to feel smug that someone else might suffer a fraction of what He had and would endure. He also did not criticize Peter. With a few of what I would characterize gentle words to Peter, He simply touched the servant’s ear and healed him.11 We have no evidence Jesus was ever out of control; instead, in all things He displayed peace.” (“Peace on Earth, Some Restrictions Apply”, Julie Franklin, BYU Devotional Address, December 5, 2006).

The world we are living in similar to the turmoil that Christ experienced The scriptures say he descended below all things (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6) so there is nothing that we are going through that he did not tread before us and through him we can find the peace that he offers us. As we find peace, then we must give that peace to others that we come in contact with.

The second part of my message today has to do with the “good will to men” part of the song. Just what is good will and is it something we have or is it something we give? I believe it is both. The scriptures teach that Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever” (Moroni .7:47) I believe that if we have this Charity in us, then we truly will love our neighbors as ourselves as we are commanded. We then will teat all of Heavenly Father’s children as our brothers and sisters. There is no class distinction found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Race, religion, political affiliations do not matter; we are all God’s children. Kristin Matthews spoke of this in another BYU Devotional address on August 6, 2013. She said:

“Christ Himself refused to recognize distinctions of class, nationality, race, gender, politics, or faith among people but instead saw each individual as a child of God worthy of His time, service, teachings, and love. When a diseased woman who was shunned by all others approached Him for help and took hold of His garment, He neither condemned nor dismissed her but blessed her (see Luke 8:43–48). When a fallen woman approached Him to wash His feet, Christ didn’t chastise her but instead accepted her act of charity (see Luke 7:37–38). When the Pharisees criticized Him for dining with a publican—a man who represented the wrong profession, the wrong politics, and an alien occupying nation—Christ rebuked them saying that His word and His love was for all (see Mark 2:15–17; Luke 15:1–2). Finally, when Jesus saw the Samaritan woman at the well He did not shun her as taboo would demand for being a woman and a Samaritan but spoke to her, taught her, and loved her (see John 4:5–42).
“Likewise, Christ’s parables teach that we need to see beyond human-created divisions that classify and evaluate people in order to see them for who and what they are: children of God. The good Samaritan in Luke 10 is a perfect example of this. We all know the story: Before the Samaritan came along, a priest and a Levite passed the injured man by. Along came a Samaritan. This alleged enemy of Israel could have said, “Oh, this guy is a foreigner,” “This guy is my enemy,” “This guy is from another church,” or “Somebody else should take care of him because he is not my problem nor worth my time.” Instead of seeing these differences and divisions, the Samaritan saw this man as a human being of worth and acted on that vision. It was this man from the outside—this stranger—who had compassion on the robbed man, binding up his wounds and providing for his shelter and further care.
Using this parable Christ taught that we need to love and care for all people—not just those like us—because all are of worth to Him. Furthermore, since He is sharing this lesson with His disciples, He is teaching that a measure of our discipleship to Him is how we treat all others. Do we pass judgment on and pass over others? Or do we stop to aid and minister unto them?” (“The Worth of Souls Is Great”, Kristin L. Matthews, BYU Devotional, August 6,2013).

During This Christmas season I hope that we will all find peace in our lives and then spread that peace to others. I also Hope that we will extend good will to men and women of all sizes, color and shapes and love them for who they are - Heavenly Father's children, our brothers and sisters.

I challenge you to do something for someone that is feeling down and in despair. We can alos spread good will by doing an act of kindness for someone we don’t even know. When you are in the drive-through getting something to eat, pay for the car behind you. If you see someone at the restaurant you are at that is in a military uniform, pay for his or her meal. Instead of getting impatient with the mother that is struggling with a crying child in line at the store, help her. Open the door for the person that has their arms full of gifts. If someone shows us kindness in some way express your gratitude to him or her. It does not matter what it is just do something everyday to help others find peace on earth and bring good will to men. 

I invite you to watch the video clip below, it is the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writhe the song and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square as they perform the song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". I hope that this Christmas season you will find peace in your life as you spread good will to men.

Your questions and comments are welcome.

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