I’ve never served in the armed forces. I can only read and imagine what it’s like.
I was always struck by WWI stories of soldiers (German and British) ceasing their firing during Christmas. In the cold and snow, wafting on the smoke of their campfires arose the united singing of Silent Night and Stille Nachte. The stories are numerous and varied and happened in many places and with lots different troops. In the cessation of hostilities, one truth transcended belligerent human desires.
“I don’t like being cold.”
I don’t like being cold. Nor do it like fighting. Having to wage war in freezing weather for one’s life and country seems to be the worst of all worlds. Yet I’m sure the horrors of war are far greater than my worst dislikes or imaginings.
Being in the trenches on Christmas must be hell. Fellow Christians shooting at one another in the name of freedom and country must seem surreal. It’s almost unimaginable that two warring factions would stop, greet each other, share songs, and even exchange pleasantries. Yet we’re told that’s exactly what happened.
As I understand it, soldiers in 1914 began to sense the spirit of Christmas early—just like you and I do here. Commercials, shopping, visits, and planning for the holidays often cause ours. In the case of the troops, it probably grew out of loneliness and being home sick.
In the days leading up to Christmas, soldiers began to emerge from their trenches. They bravely began conversations and exchanged season’s greetings with the enemy. In some places along the front, opposing soldiers would give each other presents—valuables like food and what would amount to souvenirs from another culture.
Amazing acts of humanity occurred. I use the word amazing because these things just didn’t happen in war. Outside of the battlefield, these would be normal, everyday occurrences. But there in “no man’s land,” they were extraordinary incidences.
Mortal enemies joined together for such things as prisoner swaps and burial ceremonies. They played friendly games and sang carols.
It was a long way from home for both camps. But in those moments of cease-fire and camaraderie, home was ensconced in a belief. The belief was not in their duty to serve their country, as important as that was. The belief was in one who transcended the cold and the bullets. The belief was in one whom would one day unite them forever—far away from the battlefield, and far away from all the lesser struggles of life.
During this holy season, many of us will sing the carols we’ve learned. We will exchange presents with ones we love. Hopefully we will also give to others that we might never know. We will enjoy a day or two of peace, and we will pray for a peace that will last forever.As it was in the trenches of WWI, that peace will ultimately be found in Jesus. Merry Christmas.