Why We Can Have Christmas Cheer Amidst Loss


I’ve been thinking about writing this post and what I would write for this entire week. It all started when I heard Casting Crowns’ rendition of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” on Pandora (Be sure to check it out! Video posted at the bottom of this post).

Given today’s (it was the same day when I started this post) events with the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut, I thought it was only fitting to dedicate this little, measly as it is, post to those families who will be missing a little one around their tree this Christmas. I can’t even fathom that pain, even as tears stream down my cheeks.

“I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day” is not among the popular Christmas carols/songs. I only heard of it as a child because the pastor, God used to lead my dad to Christ, loved it – his favorite carol. In fact, if you ever have heard this song, you may not be familiar with the story behind it. As both a lover of writing and history, I love finding what inspired people’s creations. For me, these little additions/discoveries are more exciting than a kid whose eyes light up upon opening a gift on Christmas morning.

This song was originally a poem, written on Christmas Day, 1863, by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His son, Charles, joined the Union cause in the Civil War, against his father’s wishes. Longfellow was informed his son was severely wounded in November. That, along with the recent death of his wife in an accidental fire, inspired this poem and words:

…in despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth I said.

For hate is strong and mocks the song…

But then, through his pain, he rightly rejoices and see the sovereignty of God as his poem ends in hope:

God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail…

I’d like to refer to an article by Barnabas Piper, John Piper’s son, titled The tension between “God is good” and “It shouldn’t be this way” 

How are we to respond when we hear tragic news or when we experience something devastating?…It is a mix of “Why?” and “This shouldn’t have happened!” But for many of us, myself included, theology often catches up to instinct and says “Yeah, but God is sovereign” as if this is more true than out first reaction. This theological realization stands in direct opposition to the emotional response. Are we sit back and think that all is ok, then?

In these times of wracking grief it is the reality of God’s sovereignty that keeps us sane, keeps us afloat in our faith. But it is the grief itself that keeps us human and humane. These two realities exist in an inexplicable, symbiotic tension. Without knowledge of God’s goodness and sovereignty we risk a spiral of hopeless insanity. Without the reality of it-should-not-be-like-this grief we risk losing all connection to what God made us as human beings. With an over-emphasis on sovereignty we become emotionally retarded as we lose the ability to feel and acknowledge real human experience. With an over-emphasis on the emotion, the grief, we wallow in a La Brea tar pit of godless grief.


4 thoughts on “Why We Can Have Christmas Cheer Amidst Loss

  1. Thank you for your timely and sensitive post. There is so much pain and suffering in our world, some obvious, some concealed behind a smile. God is sovereign, but this is only good news because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s sovereignty is not good news to those who do not believe, nor, does it necessarily or immediately sound like good news to someone who has suffered a tragic loss. It may. It may not.

    God did not make us human so that we might experience grief, but that we might know joy forever in His presence. Comforting those who are sorrowing – I mean really comforting them, not speaking theology or doctrine to them and wishing them well – requires great love and great wisdom and great compassion, at least. I think this is true whether it is a believer or non-believer.

    Please, please let us tell them again and again about Jesus, the one who suffered and died and was raised from the dead. Let us speak incessantly of the Savior who is seated at God’s right hand, who is able to save to the uttermost, who ever lives to make intercession for us. Let us speak of Him who ordained all our days before there was one of them, in whose hand we are kept until that great day when He returns to judge the living and the dead. Let us speak of Him who loves us with such blazing, unquenchable intensity that He will not rest until we stand before Him holy and blameless. Let us take heed to His word that in this world we have tribulation – death, violence, perversity, greed, corruption, injustice, war and much more – so that we cease trying to make this world a private heaven. Finally, let us point always to the glory that shall be, that is laid up for those who love God and are called by Him. Paul says, “For I consider that the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed to us. This is being “spiritually minded.” So must we strive to be while we point others to the same hope that nourishes and sustains our own soul.

    How my heart breaks for the parents and grandparents of the slain little ones! But, there is no fixing it with words or otherwise. There is Christ. There is grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness and hope, a living hope in Him. There is incomprehensible love, unknowable apart from grace because of its unsearchable magnitude. There is the promise of eternally satisfying, joy-producing good from all manner of evil. There is resurrection, glory and immortality promised to all who believe in Jesus. But, the fullness awaits His return. Until then, how utterly crucial it is that we strive to display the truth of our profession of Christ in lives of sacrificial, unfeigned love for each other and our neighbor, so that when the next tragedy comes those who are impacted will be more willing perhaps to hear about our Jesus in whom we have hoped.

    The truth we celebrate during Christmas – God was manifested in the flesh – is for innumerable reasons the inexhaustible, unshakable, unchanging ground of our rejoicing right now, even in a world like ours filled with such heart-rending sorrow, brokenness and death, so much death. Against this black background the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ shines more magnificently bright. Wouldn’t you agree?

    So, we grieve and it is right to do so. But, we also rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Merry Christmas! Not the superficial merriment of the profane secular Christmas, but that deep, soul-satisfying, heart-consoling, impregnable-to-tragedy merriment that comes from knowing Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

    Rom. 8:32

    • Dad, as always, you say it SO much better than I do, and then some; as well as get at the heart of the issue. I may just have to publish your reply as a blog on my site. Thank you so much for not only reading, but for sharing your wisdom with me – I’m incredibly blessed to have a father like you in my life. I praise the Lord for you. Love you very much, daddy.

  2. Pingback: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day | A Mom's Life


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