Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent 2015

"I Heard the Bells"

 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.

(The text is by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.)


           Ashley Williams has a beautiful way of speaking about our relationship to hymns as Baptists.  While I won't say it as eloquently as she does, her point is that for Baptists, hymns serve as our liturgy.  Unlike Episcopalians or Lutherans who follow an established liturgy in worship, we rely on the great hymns of our faith to be one of our theological and liturgical pillars.

             One hymn that has always been especially important to me was this one, penned by the great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  After a period of turmoil and pain in his life he reflected on whether or not God...Christianity...the Church...were alive and relevant in the world.  He used the imagery of the sounds of majestic and beautiful church bells to compare the effect of the Church in the world with the reality that we face in our everyday lives.  On one hand, there were magnificent, imposing structures that produced incredible sights and sounds for worshipers and passersby each day, sometimes each hour.  But, on the other hand, there was still poverty and hate and fear all around.  Why hadn't the Church already seen its vision for the world realized, and would the world ever really get there?

           But just as his mind was filled with questions and doubts and despair, he heard the bells again.  Those sounds didn't miraculously make his life better or fix all the problems he faced.  But it was in that moment he seems to have realized, through the symbolism of the bells, that the Church was still working in this imperfect world.  It may not win every argument or move every heart or be able to help every person who is lost, lonely, or hurting, but it is still the Church, and it still carries forth its mission in every corner of the world.

            May we take heart in that idea this Advent season.  Although we have work still to do here in Savannah in order to stand with the poor and powerless on issues of social justice, to offer love and compassion to people who hurt, and to share in joy with those who celebrate, we continue the work of the Church in this place on a weekly and daily basis because we believe in the mission and vision that we have affirmed together.  

            Like the majestic bells, may we be more "loud and deep" in our work in order that the world might "revolve from night to day." 


- Kyle Ballantine


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