A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

On a midnight clear 2000 years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem.   The angels of heaven showed up and started singing, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill toward men!”  Whenever I read this I can’t help but ask the question, “How are we doing with that?”  In just over 5600 years of recorded history there has only been 298 years of world peace…and most of them were a long time ago.  There are over 100 armed conflicts brewing somewhere in the world right now.  Most of them are being fought along religious or ethnic lines.

There is one day however that has gone down as one of our brightest moments in human history.  It was a midnight clear on Christmas Eve in 1914.  It was just 6 months into the bloody conflict in Europe which later became known as WWI.  The Germans had been in a fierce battle with the British and French on the battlefields of Flanders.  Both sides were dug in, safe in muddy, man-made trenches six to eight feet deep that seemed to stretch forever. 

A quiet moment in German trenches during World War I

The miracle began as the Germans set up hundreds of miniature Christmas trees (tannenbaums) lit by candles.  They followed by singing, Stille nacht, heilige nacht  (Silent night, holy night).  When the song finished, the men in the British trenches actually applauded their enemy and responded with The first Nowell.  Then the Germans came back with O Tannenbaum, followed by O come all ye faithful by the British. Yes, right from the trenches of the war to end all wars, instead of exchanging gunfire they were exchanging Christmas carols across the battlelines.

The miracle did not end there.  From the German side the words came, “English, come over!  You no shoot, we no shoot.”  British, French, Belgian and German soldiers for miles climbed out of the trenches and meet in the middle; “no man’s land”.  The first order of business was to bury the dead who had been previously unreachable because of the conflict.  Then, they exchanged gifts.  Chocolate cake, cognac, postcards, newspapers, tobacco.  The English brought out a soccer ball and a game ensued using the the spiked German helmets as goal posts.  To this day both sides claim that they won.  Of all things that matters the least.

An unidentified soldier in a trench during the Christmas Truce of 1914

The cessation of hostilities lasted in some locations through Boxing Day and in other locations into the New Year. Ultimately however, the ceasefire came to an end when the horrified generals on both sides ordered their troops back to war. For the next few days many shot their weapons in the air instead of at their enemies, who had now become their new found friends.  Do you remember the movie from the sixties?  Suppose the gave a war and nobody came?

I have always claimed that the only reason people hate each other is because they really don’t know each other.  With the influence of the message of the gospel in the world, I think we should be doing a whole lot better than we are.  But for one brief moment in the history of man, the common soldier, with the spirit of Christmas in their heart, put into practice the glorious Christmas message of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men.”

May those eternal words ring in your heart this Christmas season.  God bless and Merry Christmas from my house to yours.  Pastor Mark

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