published Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Baumgardner: The magic and wonder of Christmas

By Julie Baumgardner

We have all experienced a tragic event whose ripple effect impacts everyone. Many are approaching Christmas wih heavy hearts, in no mood to celebrate.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow seemed in a similar place when he wrote the carol now referred to as "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." In 1864 on Christmas Day, Longfellow received word that his son, a soldier in the Civil War, had been wounded. Just two years before, he lost his wife in a fire. As he was grieving, he wrote words of hope to challenge his own despair. He called the poem "Christmas Bells."

"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 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.'

Longfellow had no idea that the words he wrote would be a comforting gift to so many who find themselves in grief and despair.

In the midst of tragedy, there is hope. People have hit the pause button and are examining their lives. Many will be moved to act in some way. Families who were taking tomorrow for granted will hug each other tighter and will cherish the time they have with each other this Christmas.

Perhaps people will be provoked to have conversations that have been put off for too long in an effort to restore broken relationships. Others will advocate for changes that need to be made to enrich the lives of all of us.

In a world that has become loud, hectic, materialistic and high tech, perhaps the greatest gift any of us can give or receive this Christmas is not something that money can buy. It is the gift of being reminded that life is precious and we really do need each other.

Stop fretting over whether you have exactly the right gift under the tree. The best gift is being willing to be in a real, transparent, wholehearted relationship with those around you.

As you gather in the coming days with friends and family, don't underestimate the power of the connections being made.

In spite of the inconveniences that may come with planning for holiday gatherings, the quirkiness of certain relatives and those awkward moments that make great family memories, time spent with loved ones provides a connectedness that is irreplaceable and will be remembered by all for generations to come.

And, lest we forget, when you bow your heads to give thanks at your family table, please remember the families in Newtown, Conn., need our prayers. As Longfellow said,

"The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men."

Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Her email is julieb@firstthings.org.

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