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The Reason For Seasons
Fences Around the Manger
by Maricia Mlynek
     

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The nativity scene is an important part of my Christmas. It doesn’t matter if it is a stable displayed in a window or the family’s layout under the tree. In our church’s nativity, there was a split-rail fence that went with the clay figures and wooden structure. This always intrigued me. I never thought of its significance until I was an adult.

I think we each, in our own way, continue to build the rails around the manger. The purpose is not to keep the animals in, but to keep our minds and hearts out of that scene. How easily we dismiss the idea of a baby and virgin mother. The world will tell you that it isn’t so. Science continues to try and explain the wonder away. Psychology still questions the validity of the story and debates the existence of a divine power for man’s need for continuance and social order. Countless intellects call the events of that first Christmas a myth, a fairy tale, a made-up story. Other religions denounce it, and mankind condemns it.

Perhaps you, too, have your own reasons for dismissing the nativity. Perhaps you question the existence of God. How could there be a God, when there is so much pain? What kind of God would allow for the hurt I go through each day? Where was God when I needed him? Why would God let this happen? . . .And so the fence is built. The posts are fortified.

I am not an expert of the heart or a master of the mind. I do not claim to have insight into all corners of the world, but there are things I believe to be true of each of us. We each need purpose and we long for peace. Ask yourself why at Christmas you question a Christ? Do you believe in love, even though it cannot be seen nor touched? Do you believe in hope, even though it can be irrational? Are there such things as fear and joy, even though sometimes they can be unexplainable? Do people have souls, even though they may show no signs of having hearts?

For answers, I look to one of America’s best known poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. When he penned the following words, America was still months away from the end of the Civil War. Tragedy had not only struck the nation, but the Longfellow family. He lost his wife in a fire. Too ill from his own burns and grief, he did not attend her funeral.

In his journal, the first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the incident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Longfellow’s journal entry for Dec. 25, 1862, reads: “ ‘A merry Christmas,’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son, Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal.

His manger had been hidden by the fences of his sorrow, but grief would not be the ending of this story. On Christmas Day of 1864, the nativity was in full view again, and he wrote these words:

. . . 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!

Friends, this is my Christmas wish for you. Look through your sorrow and despair at the nativity. Has your heart fell silent? Is there a fence around the manger? With what hurt did you nail the rails together? Some truths are unable to be calculated, deciphered, or reasoned. As it is with the mystery of most great things, I do not know how to explain the manger and the wonders of that first Christmas.

I, in all attempts of eloqence, will fall short in comparison to Longfellow’s heartfelt words. Listen again . . . Hear the bells on Christmas day! Find the peace through the fences in your heart. Allow the unthinkable, unexplainable, and unimaginable to fill your soul. “. . . and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!” Merry Christmas!

Christmas Bells

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

        (The original poem, complete with all seven stanzas. Two are usually omitted.)

        “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!

Then from each black accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

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!”

 

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