Christmas Eve Meditation
It was Christmas Eve 1914; soldiers from the German and English armies had fought for 5 months in the First World War. Both sides were in a stalemate as they shivered in the water logged trenches.
Graham Williams, aged 21, of the London Rifle Brigade was on night watch when he saw lights all along the German army trenches and said loud enough to be heard, “By God, the Jerries have Christmas trees!” Then he and his comrades heard a chorus of German voices began to sing, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” or “Silent Night Holy Night.”
In response, the soldiers of the London Rifle Brigade cheered and they in turn sang “The First Noel.” For over an hour, German and English soldiers in opposing trenches sang carols. In between songs, there were calls for each side to come over and visit, but no one dared to make a move.
Finally on Christmas morning, German soldiers, with hands in their pockets, came out of the trenches. British soldiers did the same. They greeted one another and shook hands, and peace had begun to spread through that no man’s land.
They all promised to keep the unofficial ceasefire throughout the day. It was truly an incredible sight as a multitude of soldiers walked arm in arm and took photographs. Several soccer matches with tin cans were played, and if a man got knocked down, the other side helped him up.
All during the day, soldiers paid mutual trench visits and exchanged gifts of tobacco, jam, sausage, and chocolate. They traded names and addresses. An English barber gave free haircuts while a juggler from the German side entertained the troops. Soldiers from both countries respectfully dug graves side by side and held joint funerals.
When the Generals of both sides heard what had taken place they were alarmed. They were concerned what this open display of friendship might do to the war effort. Unfortunately the truce did end, and shots were fired into the air. Men scrambled back into the trenches to the cries of “Go back Tommy” or “Go back Jerry.”
However Christmas 1914 will always be remembered as the time in history of the most famous military truce. It was even made into a movie called the “Joyeux Noelle.” That extraordinary event illustrates the powerful effect Christ has on history.
In the first Christmas so long ago, when the baby Jesus was born, a multitude of angels proclaimed to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth goodwill toward all.”
In time, the baby Jesus grew up to become the Son of God; one of his divine names is “Prince of Peace.” When we invite Christ into our hearts, it is like God coming into our time, our space, our lives, to be spiritually recreated in a new way. One term I like to use, is “born from above.”
So tonight on this Christmas Eve, this is truly a time for the heart, more so than for the mind. In our worship service we have images of the Nativity through the tapestry on the wall, the songs, and the videos that remind us of what happened. There is the bright star that shines in the East that leads the wise men to Bethlehem; there is the heavenly host that sings praises to God to the fear and amazement of the shepherds and finally there was the special baby boy who was born in a stable wrapped in swaddling cloth, cared for by Mary and Joseph.
Tonight, we come, not necessarily wanting to hear the proofs and reasons for some great truth or mystery of God. We want to feel and experience the warmth, love, softness and wonder of God that is with and among us.
This is a night where we want to feel what we believe: to celebrate the birth, not only of a wise man, a great teacher, a prophet, but of God in the flesh in the form of a baby.
In a few hours, families and friends will exchange gifts, but perhaps the best Christmas present we can give ourselves is to invite Christ into our hearts and live for him. Someday this little baby who grew up to be a man, will return as the Prince of Peace, and what happened on Christmas of 1914, will be like a foreshadow of greater things to come. So in the meantime, let us keep Christ in our hearts, not only during this Christmas season, but every day of the year.