If you’ve read much history, you’ve probably heard of one of the strangest events ever in the history of war, which took place in World War I, in December, 1914. German and British troops were engaged off and on in battle and were stationed only a few hundred yards from one another on the Western Front. Both sides needed some relief from the fierce fighting.
On Christmas Eve, German soldiers lit candles on their Christmas trees–not a very wise move during wartime, since the enemy could easily spot their position. British soldiers responded, however, by shooting off rockets and building bonfires of their own.
Soon, the Germans began singing Christmas carols, and from afar, invited the British to join in. One British soldier cried out, “We would rather die than sing in German!” A German soldier responded, “If we had to listen to you sing in German, it would kill us too!” Throughout the night, each camp listened to the other sing.
The next morning, hundreds of soldiers from both sides left their trenches to meet the enemy in no-man’s land, where they shook hands and exchanged gifts of food, candy and tobacco. Some traded names and addresses. Meanwhile, a soccer game was played between the shell holes and barbed wire.
Both German and British generals spoke out against the truce, fearing that such fraternization would sap the troops’ will to fight. Of course, it didn’t. Fighting resumed the following day, and eventually ten million people would lose their lives in World War I. But on that single Christmas Day, two enemies put aside their differences long enough to practice peace.
There’s certainly a lesson in there for us this Christmas season. Even in the midst of the stress and pressure of this season, we all get tired of the battle sometimes. What if we called a truce, at least for this season?
Imagine if husbands and wives would just “give peace a chance.” And brothers and sisters. And in-laws. And neighbors, and co-workers. And church members. What if we who claim to follow the Prince of Peace made a determined effort to live in peace with one another, even the most contentious among us? We just might begin to experience long-term what those embattled soldiers experienced for one day. Maybe the angelic message proclaimed to those simple shepherds on that first Christmas night can still apply today: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill towards men.”
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas! I look forward to seeing you on Sunday as we celebrate our Savior together.