Christmas carols have always been a hallmark of the Christmas season for me. Perhaps it's because some of my fondest memories come from Christmas hymns and Christmas caroling. Christmas carols have the warmth of familiarity and a spark of magic in their melodies and lyrics. They make me feel at home and they sound like heaven.
Favorite Christmas carols change with the years. I honestly think that every single Christmas hymn in the LDS hymn book has been my favorite at some point in my life. But every year there seems to be one Christmas hymn that stands out just a bit more to me than the rest because of the experiences of the previous year.
My favorite Christmas carol this year is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I used to not like this song as much; it doesn't have an exciting, upbeat, "Hallelujah! A Savior is born!" tempo like "Joy to the World" or "Hark! The Herald Angles Sing" does. Plus, it's kind of long . . . you have to sing all five verses to understand the song.
But as I've grown, the song has meant more to me.
I am moved by the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote the song after losing his wife in a tragic accidental fire and not knowing if his wounded son, who was a Union soldier in the Civil War, was going to live. No wonder he hung his head in despair and said "there is no peace on earth."
Truly, peace has been taken from the earth. Natural disasters, famines, political turmoil, shattered dreams and lost innocence scream that we live in perilous times. For example, this past semester I took a History of Modern Germany class. Just one day in that class would convince even the most naive that men do not live together in peace. The books I read for that class and the lectures I attended left me depressed and sometimes physically sick.
The more I learn about the world, the easier it is to despair.
But that is why the fourth verse is so powerful:
"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!'"
God is not dead. Yes, there is hatred and cruelty in the world. Yes, life never turns out the way we plan. Yes, sorrow strikes us and fear paralyzes us.
But that doesn't mean God isn't there.
It doesn't mean He isn't mindful of us.
It doesn't mean He doesn't weep for us and with us.
There is a reason we celebrate Christmas. It is because our Heavenly Father sent His Son to earth. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, came into the world to take away the pain, sorrow, and hatred of the world. He came to atone for our sins and wipe away our tears.
I testify that Christ is the reason there can be peace on earth, and certainly in our hearts. He is the way to have peace in this life. He is the only way. He makes us whole. He is the Healer of the nations.
And He is the reason I sing at Christmastime . . . and all of the time.