November 15, 2018
Christmas is a magical time. It still amazes me that God is interested enough in we puny (and sometimes crazy) humans to want to be one of us, one with us. With an ever-expanding universe (of how many?) to take care of, God is interested in what happens on earth.
When Jesus was born, the angels sant "Peace on earth." Yet how often has that peace been broken? And yet, sometimes that light of peace shines brightly and the Prince of Peace overrules all our warring tendencies.
This year we are celebrating the end of World War I, the war that was to end all wars. One of my favorite Christmas stories took place in the early years of that war, in 1914.
When the war started in August, 1914, there was a lot of enthusiasm. Young men signed up for "King and country" or "Kaiser and country" in great numbers. Everyone expected the war to be over by Christmas. But in the west, the war got bogged down in France. The soldiers dug trenches and lobbed shells at each other, but it was a stalemate. It was obvious there was not going to be a Christmas homecoming.
Life in the trenches was horrible. The trenches were muddy, cold, infested with both rats and lice. Cholera and trench foot wrre rampant. On Christmas Eve, German soldiers lit the candles on trees sent from home. Christmas carols were sung across "No Man's Land" by both sides. In some cases, men met in "No Man's Land" and exchanged gifts: food, tobacco or liquor. Captain Robert Patrick Miles of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry recalled in an edited letter that was published in both the Daily Mail and the Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News in January 1915, following his death in action on 30 December 1914:
"Friday (Christmas Day). We are having the most extraordinary Christmas Day imaginable. A sort of unarranged and quite unauthorized but perfectly understood and scrupulously observed truce exists between us and our friends in front. The funny thing is it only seems to exist in this part of the battle line -- on our right and left we can all hear them firing away as cheerfully as ever. The thing started last night -- a bitter cold night, with white frost -- soon after dusk when the Germans started shouting 'Merry Christmas, Englishmen' to us. Of course our fellows shouted back and presently large numbers of both sides had left their trenches, unarmed, and met in the debatable, shot-riddled, no man's land between the lines. Here the agreement -- all on their own -- came to be made that we should not fire at each other until after midnight tonight. The men were all fraternizing in the middle (we naturally did not allow them too close to our line) and swapped cigarettes and lies in the utmost good fellowship. Not a shot was fired all night. There are reports of soccer games being played in "No Man's Land."
Christmas peace broke out all along the western front, between English and German troops and between French and German troops. There were also places along the Eastern front where German and Russian troops came together at Christmas. Among the Orthodox, Easter is the more important holiday and there were cases of an Easter peace on the Eastern front in 1915.
The Christmas truce didn't last, unfortunately. It is difficult, if not impossible to fight a war when "the enemy" is another person with a family. Most of the soldiers that participated in the Christmas truce were dispersed to other units and the officers were shot. But nothing can erase the history of that holy night.
Christ makes us one. In Holy Communion, we become one body in him. And yet there is a strong tendency in humans to divide ourselves, and to deny what happens in Holy Communion. Christ makes us one, whether we want to be one with "the other" or not. I find this a powerful way of establishing peace and healing the broken relationships we have with one another. If we can begin to just understand that we are one with our African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, and Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters, then that can become the foundation to understanding and acting on the idea that we are ALL children of God. Christ is our peace.
So in the Spirit of that peace that Christ gives to us, I wish you a very Merry Christmas!