I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (in Ferguson)

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After the Grand Jury in St. Louis County decided there was insufficient evidence to indict the police officer who shot and killed a black man in August, Ferguson erupted. I – and you probably – watched on TV as fires were set and property looted and destroyed. No matter where you stand on who is at fault or what wrongs happened when, there can be little doubt that hate is strong in this world and mocks the Christmas refrain of “peace of earth, goodwill to men.”

But the next Sunday morning things were calm and still as I drove to First Baptist Church there. As I a parked, I was a mere 20 yards from the torched Little Caesar’s pizza, and a block from a burned out Walgreens.

The pastor – an older white man preaching to a mixed race congregation – preached a great sermon from John 14 and 16, saying Christ is the only hope and source of peace for Ferguson, St. Louis and the world.

“It was hurtful for all types of people when you see your community that you love, live in and work in. When you see the flames start to rise up, the anger starts to rise up in your heart. If Jesus doesn’t come forth, the anger persists and bad things happen. There is a real dearth of people thinking, acting and feeling biblically.”

Shaw urged his church to think do just that as they left church that morning, though anger and distrust still swirl as shopping malls, football games and other events are being disrupted in the region amid cries of racism.

But the most poignant moment the service was the opening song, played on chimes and sung by black, white and other races’ voices. It was “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” a carol adapted from the Civil War-era poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Its final verse reads:

“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.’”

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