How slight the sound of the bells were yet how it gently enlightened my soul

  • Published
  • By Chaplain David Kreis
  • 944th Fighter Wing Chaplains office

So there I was standing in front of the microwave in my company breakroom, wondering why my phone wasn’t getting any signal. It was a fairly standard, boring day in the warehouse when I hear the distinct sound of sleigh bells. Instinctively, I look up at the roof like, “Santa?” “On top of a warehouse?” Then I hear it again as one of my supervisors comes around the corner. It took me a moment to notice he had small bells on his socks. “Well done,” I said remembering I need to wear my Elf onesie to work on Christmas Eve just because it would be fun.

As the microwave beeped and I moved toward my seat, I realized how slight the sound of the bells were yet how it had gently enlightened my soul for a moment. It reminded me of an old Christmas hymn that you are not likely to hear on the radio. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote it on Christmas Day in 1863 while wondering if his eldest son, who had been severely injured a month before, would live to see the new year. Longfellow had been widowed a couple years before and now the war had threatened his family again. He thought of all the pain, frustration, and suffering in the world but then hearing the bells from a nearby church tower calmed his soul for a moment. As writer Justin Taylor describes it “He heard the Christmas bells that December day and the singing of ‘peace on earth’ but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook. The theme of listening recurred throughout the poem, eventually leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair.”

Below are the words and I trust you can relate. See the link for a modern arrangement of the hymn 


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!