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Bells, Bells, Bells

Rev. Thomas Handrick, Sr.
Immanuel Lutheran Church & School  
Perryville, MO

View Associated File

Fri, Feb 1, 2008 


The first verse of Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Bells" says, "Hear the sledges with the bells - Silver bells!  What a world of merriment their melody foretells!  How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, In the icy air of night!  While the stars that oversprinkle All the heav-ens, seem to twinkle With a crystalline delight; Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells - From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells."

Bells have a special position of significant sentiment in the sacred and secular songs of Christmas.  "What a minute!" some of you may exclaim.  "What's this all about?  We're past Christmas!" Well, the secular world may be past Christmas but Christianity is still celebrating the Savior's birth during this "Christmas-extended" season of Epiphany (sometimes referred to as the "Gentile's Christmas").

You see, the secular economy-dominated world sees Christmas as a season that begins sometime in autumn (perhaps even late summer) and ends on Christmas Eve, December 24.  Christ-focused Christianity knows that Christmas begins on December 25, continues formally for the "12 days of Christmas" through January 5, and extends informally beginning with Epiphany on January 6 up to the Sunday before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (February 6 this year).

The secular economy-dominated world emphasizes sales in an effort to profit from Christmas, even to the point that many merchants depend on Christmas sales to boost their bottom line out of the "red" and into the "black."  Christianity, on the other hand, emphasizes the hope, joy, peace, and love that God gives us through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  Those are eternal gifts that Immanuel gained for us with His humble birth, holy life, innocent suffering and death, and majestic resurrection vic-tory over sin, Satan, and death itself.  We now freely give to others those precious gifts that God gave us.  But I digress.

Let's briefly identify four Christmas bells songs.  The first one that comes to my mind was written by Henry W. Longfellow, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."  Then there's "The Carol of the Bells."  Or what about the one by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, "Silver Bells."  Of course as young children we all learned and enjoyed singing the one written by James Lord Pierpont, "Jingle Bells," that was updated during the Rock-and-Roll era to "Jingle Bell Rock."

Okay, enough about Christmas bells; let's get to the point of all this.  You may have noticed that our church located at 453 N. West St. (across the street from the hospital) is undergoing a construction project.  It is a canopy to shield our main entrance from inclement weather (especially rain) and includes relocating the historic church bell from its "cage" to a prominent place above the main entrance where it will be functional once again.

Nancy House, who is our de facto church historian, informed me that this bell was originally purchased in 1882 for a mere $291.02 all of which was raised by freewill donations.  Weighing in at a substantial 1,480 lbs., it has been a fixture in two previous church buildings prior to the present one.  It was used to remind people of and call them to the worship services.  When Klaus Construction Company of Perryville completes the project that Pfaff Partnership, Inc. of Manchester, MO designed we will use it to do the same thing once again.

By the way, Vernon Wills was the last person to ring the bell before it was removed from our previous church that had occupied the location of the present Perry County Senior Citizen Center.  When the dedication of the completed project occurs it seems only fitting that he and a representative of our Concordia Ladies Aid, who is funding the project, should be given the honor of ringing it for the first time together.

Now for a little Bible trivia.  The English word bell(s) is found only seven times in the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible (Exodus 28:33 & 34 and 39:25 & 26).  Bells were part of the priestly garments for which God gave instructions to Moses that the High Priest Aaron would wear.  He would do so when he functioned in the public priestly office much like pastors and priests of liturgical churches today wear special robes when they function in their office of leading public worship.  The sound of the bells served to tell the people that he had gone into the sanctuary and even the holy of holies where he presented the people's petitions to God.

Church bells today still serve to call people to worship.  That is, they signal that it is time for worship to begin.  As they do so, it is good to remember King David's words,

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Ps 23:6 ESV)

"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple." (Ps 27:4 ESV)

"I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!'" (Ps 122:1 ESV)

God comes to us in His house (the church) in the divine service.  He does so through His Holy Word that we read and hear and the Blessed Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  Through those means of grace He gives us His precious gifts of forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life.  We then respond with Spirit-guided praise and thanksgiving.  That is, we honor God as God and give Him gratitude for all His spiritual and material gifts to us.

So, when you hear our church's old bell ring anew be reminded that worship is about to begin.  Let that reminder also be God's (and our) invitation to gather together in the divine service where He will serve us His blessed menu of mercy and grace and we will tell Him our appreciation.  "Hear the sledges with the bells - Silver bells!  What a world of merriment their melody foretells!"

Rev. Thomas Handrick, Sr.

Administrative Pastor

Immanuel Lutheran Church & School

Perryville, MO

This sermon is not copyrighted. It is God's gift to His Church for free and unrestricted use through me who am one of His many faithful servants. Please exercise the common courtesy of properly acknowledging its source should you use part or all of it for any purposes.

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