Dr. Stradtman’s Christmas Wish…

Church bells and cross against a dawn skyFor the Stradtman Family, memories of “Christmas Past” always include musical traditions. Celia, Sandy, and their children share a love of music at home, in worship, and in the community. They have long been supporters of the Birmingham Boys Choir. The group nurtured son Skip’s development toward his career as a composer and arranger.

This year, the music is silent, or nearly so.  Some Birmingham area churches have again suspended in-person worship. The Jemison Concert Hall will be dark where the Alabama Symphony would have performed Handel’s Messiah when we most need to hear “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy…”.

Talking with her patients, Dr. Stradtman hears the burdens that COVID-19 has imposed on families, and the sadness and anxiety that result. She encourages women to reach out to their doctor if these feelings become overwhelming.

One evening this week, as we discussed the challenges ahead, Dr. Stradtman shared a thought that lifted up those of us who heard it. Her son had just completed a new arrangement of the beloved hymn “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” She asked if we knew the reason the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the beautiful words.

The poem came out of one of the darkest times in our country’s history. The American Civil War took over 600,000 lives from battlefield wounds and disease (Imagine 7 million deaths in today’s population). So many were young. Longfellow had just lost his wife and was struggling to raise six children alone. In December 1863, a telegram arrived informing him that his oldest son had been wounded in battle. The church bells that rang on Christmas morning of that terrible year brought him only deep despair. The Christmas Story’s message of hope–celebrated by the bells–seemed drowned out by violence. But Longfellow found comfort in the poem he wrote that day.  It ends:

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.”

May the message of the Christmas Story bring you comfort and hope as this difficult year comes to an end. Thank you, Dr. Stradtman, for sharing these thoughts.

Click here if you would like to enjoy Skip Stradtman’s wonderful arrangement for choir and bell ensemble of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.