“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” based on an 1863 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is a truly unusual Christmas song. Instead of the expected Christmas joy and mirth, the lyric forms a lament, crying out, “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.” This lament, however, moves forward into hope, reassuring us that “God is not dead, nor does he sleep / The wrong shall fail, the right prevail / With peace on earth goodwill toward men.”
The pattern of hope rising out of lament is also found in the lament psalms of the Bible. As such, Psalm 43 begins with the psalmist crying out about his enemies who attack him (v. 1) and his God who seems to have forgotten him (v. 2). But the singer doesn’t stay in lament—he looks up to the God he doesn’t fully understand but still trusts, singing, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (v. 5).
Life is filled with reasons for lament, and we all experience them on a regular basis. But, if we allow that lament to point us to the God of hope, we can sing joyfully—even if we sing through our tears.