Friends, we will be fortunate this Christmas eve to hear bells from our very own steeple, as a gift from the family of Evelyn Harris, one of church's saints. These bells are a gift given through her estate in her memory and will bless us all.
The tradition of bells as a part of worship dates back to the Old Testament. The sounding of the ram's horn would announce the beginning of a feast and the book of Exodus mentions gold bells and pomegranate. Bells were sewn around the hem of priests' robes so that each time they took a step, the bells would sound.
Once Christianity was not a forbidden religion, bells were used to summon people to worship, starting in the 400's with their introduction by Paulinus of Nola. Before the invention of the newspaper or radio, church bells were rung as part of everyday life in order to inform or warn the people of special activities. There are still over 5200 churches in England with rings of five or more bells and over 3000 bells cast in medieval times.
During World War II in Great Britain all church bells were silenced from ringing, and were only to be rung to warn the people of an invasion by enemy troops. The noon bell was ordered by Pope Callixtus II in 1456 as support for the Hungarian defenders of Belgrade, and a noon bell is still rung in international commemoration of John Hunyadi's victory at Belgrade. In the Eastern Orthodox Church there is a long history of bell ringing, with certain bells run in particular ways to signify different parts of the services. There are even ways in Kent and Surrey in England to toll the funeral bells, three times three strokes for a man and three times two for a woman. And of course the symbol of bells is engraved on many a wedding invitation, because it is has been used to ring in the happy couple's new life together.
The bells are rung to recognize, to warn, to mourn, to celebrate. They have been used to connect with all parts of our lives, from war to marriage, from death to new life.
And so it is appropriate this Christmas Eve that we will hear bells ring to remind us that God is with us in the midst of all times and all places. Because tomorrow night, we will hear the story once again of how God came in human form through the baby Jesus Christ, to remind us all that we are not alone. For this child is called Emmanuel, God is with us.
Let us be thankful for this gift of the Christ child, as we hear the bells toll us to worship in celebration this Christmas Eve. For it will be an assurance to us all, God is with us, we are not alone in any circumstance of life. Thanks be to God!