CLEF Newsletter - December 2021

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me and eat what is good. And delight yourself in abundance” (Isaiah 55:1-2)

Much as a relentless facet of society seeks to eradicate every vestige of the Christmas season and its message of hope and good cheer, it continues its own intrepid celebration of peace on earth and good will toward men. Despite all the Grinch and grind of those who would see it’s spiritual dimension go away, it remains in itself an unfaltering and unfiltered symbol and reassurance that it is God’s Light that pierces the darkness all around, that it is His Spirit’s Life that harbors hope and heart for a future worth pursuing and preserving for, and God’s Love that dispels our fear, dissipates our pain, and diminishes our loss.

The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” on December 25th, 1864, four months before Lee’s Army of Virginia finally capitulated to Grant’s Army of the Potomac. Grief had wracked his heart since his wife’s tragic death from a freak fire in 1861 (in which he was also severely burned and left scarred, with three children yet to finish raising), and his young son of 17 was seriously wounded in the war, as well as the constant heartache of what was happening to his beloved country. He was a man of good Christian faith but struggled with the adversity his life had been marred by. And yet continuing to look to the God of all grace, he had to conclude through it all that God’s goodness was greater, and He would use all those hardships and misfortunes to draw both him and his children, as well as a nation in deep crisis, into the benevolence of a blessed providence. He overcame his sorrows by the hope and healing of a God Who was there, Who neither slumbers nor sleeps, but is rather intimately acquainted with all of our ways, Who promises that “‘Though the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you’” (54:10). Lincoln himself, recounting the many blessings God had given the country despite the war, had stated “No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” In His wrath, God does remember mercy, and though severe, it was correcting in America a scurrilous trade.

Thus, refusing to give in to despair, Wadsworth penned these words that were later read by an English composer deeply moved by such resolute trust and resilience in the American people. John Calkin put the words to music and a treasured Christmas carol was born, spurring the enduring notion that despite tragedy, suffering, and the unconscionable destructions of war, there is the continuing hope that God’s lovingkindness, justice and righteousness will prevail.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And wide and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
I thought as now this day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rung so long 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 does he sleep
The wrong shall fail the right prevail
With peace on earth good will to men
Ti ‘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.

There is an abundance of hope, joy, faith, and love in the heart of an everlasting God so graciously expressed to us each Christmas. It’s given as a gift to satisfy a thirsty soul and hungering heart. Listen carefully to its sounds; eat what is good and find peace in His rest. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return without watering the earth, making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my Word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (55:10-11).

Thanksgiving’s horn of God’s Providence. Christmas’s trumpet of God’s Proclamation. Hanukkah’s light of God’s Presence. The Morning Star of His Peace. “In Your name we rejoice all the day, and by Your righteousness we are lifted up. For You are the glory of our strength, and by Your favor our horn is raised” (vv.16-17).

On behalf of my fellow chaplains I would like to thank you for allowing us to serve you as we do and in this past year. In and out of your car, around the station, your office, at events, personally and professionally, we count it a privilege to be your friend. We try hard not to be in the way, but available when and however you need us. Having someone there to share what’s on your heart, your struggles, fears, perplexities and frustrations, even your grief and pain; your joys, aspirations, celebrations, failures and successes, it is our joy to be made a part of your life and times. We don’t always get it right, but we offer a caring heart and hopefully an insightful thought or two. Or maybe just a listening ear. Either way we’re working to be more available and effective, and by God’s grace, a more trusted source of confidence for you and your family. God bless you all this holiday season, and grant you and yours the joy of His good future and hope.