Updated: Feb 28
In and unlikely place, under no ordinary circumstances something extraordinary took place. The scene was a stable in the dark of night. The characters are a poor, unwed Jewish teenager betrothed, but not yet married to a man named Joseph. Shepherds and angels are in the fields. Mystics are coming from the east following a star. On this first day of Christmas the Divine Child has come into the world. The blue dawn has broken. The light of peace has pierced the darkness. And it is extraordinary.
Extraordinary moments can happen on Christmas Day. One of those moments on December 25, 1914. The scene then was in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I. On that clear, crisp Christmas morning, thousands of British, Belgian, and French soldiers stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with their German enemies. Many have said that this moment in history, as extraordinary as it was, was more than that. They say that it was a miracle – a rare moment of peace in a war that would eventually take over fifteen million lives.
It started the night before on Christmas Eve. As Pvt. Albert Moren of the Queen’s Regiment recalled in a found document, that the night was “a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere.”
It is reported that it all began when the Germans started singing Silent Night and the Allies joined in.
Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade remembers it this way:
“First the Germans would sing one of their carols, and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really an extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.” It is reported that the first that started is all was Silent night.
The next morning, German soldiers emerged from their trenches calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. Allied soldiers came out to greet them. Others held up signs reading: “You no shoot, we no shoot.” Over the course of the day, troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons, and hats. The Germans shared their beer with the Allied troops. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to help each other bury their dead comrades, whose bodies were in “no man’s land,” the ground between opposing trenches that sometime spanned just 100 feet.
While there were occasional moments of peace throughout the rest of World War I, they never again came of the scale of the Christmas Day truce of 1914.
This is a real life story of the light of God’s grace and peace penetrating man-made darkness and it is a story that also speaks to us today more than a hundred years later as we struggle with our own forms of darkness and the atrocities brought on by war, terrorism and violence. And as beautiful and powerful as the nativity story is for us in our lives, there also remains the harsh reality of the conditions in which we live and into which the Divine Word comes to us today. As wonderfully astonishing it is that the Light shines in the darkness, there is still the reality of that darkness.
All major religions have at their foundation a theology of love and a commitment to peace. All have prophets, sages and gurus who guide their people into the ways of divine love – spiritual leaders such as Abraham, Ghandi, Muhammad and The Dalai Lama. For Christians, the Avatar of Divine Light is Jesus.
Now more than ever we need to all work together. Now more than ever we need to set aside our differences and embrace each other as equally important to God’s work. As Christians, this is our time – our moment – to offer to the entire world the Light of Lights, The Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, who now comes to all incarnate in human flesh and dwells here with us in order to teach us – as John the Baptist foretold – how to make smooth the ways of peace. Christmas is our opportunity to share with the world what that really means. This is our time to share with the world our Lord’s teachings and to show that, as followers of Jesus, we are unwavering – as he was and is – to our commitment to justice, truth, dignity, peace, and love. And that commitment extends to all people, regardless of religious affiliation. This is what it means to be a Christian.
The world is agonizing under a death-dealing global pandemic that has forced separation from one another. Our nation is at a time of reckoning for racial injustice, our recent leadership has sought to divide rather than unit us, climate change is real and has brought our planet to a precarious edge. Violence all too often seems to rule the modern day. We are in desperate need for clearing the way for peace, and as Christians we, along with our brothers and sisters from other religious traditions, can help lead the way. The spirit of Christmas should not be boxed-in to one day, or for that matter, into just the Christian box, because Christmas is for the whole world. The spirit of peace accord should extend into all our days, for all our life, and to all people. This Christmas spirit of peace can continue beyond this moment. We have an opportunity to bring the Good News of Christ to the world in ways that are vital, relevant, and can help heal us a global community of God’s family.
Many of our friends in jails and prisons have become Divine Companions of our Community of Divine love. They have committed themselves to a spiritual Rule of Life – a design for living – that includes prayer, meditation, study of Scripture, and service to others. An important element of the Divine Companion Commitment is to non-violence, and to be peacemakers in the midst of a sometimes-chaotic environment. Our Divine Companion brothers and sisters are doing their part to be instruments of peace, and we are deeply grateful for their witness and striving to make the world of incarceration a better place.
In the Episcopal Church, our baptismal covenant with God is that we will “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves,…strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” To encounter all persons, all people, and every human being, we need to think and love beyond borders and divisions. This is a movement, a movement of God’s revelation of love into all the world, to all the people of the world. This is about truly loving as Christ loved. It is about inspiring the very best in people regardless of their denominational stripes or spiritual tradition. It’s about respecting others in such a way that our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and all of our sisters and brothers in the world are able to claim, with authenticity and truth, their own life and spiritual path to God because of our Christian presence, not in spite of it. It’s about understanding that when we step out of our own trenches, the space between us need not be a no man’s land, but instead and invitation to come together on common ground as one people in the spirit of peace. And like that Christmas Day in 1914, we just might find ourselves singing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ … together … in peace.
This is how we show the world who we are as Christians. It is a statement that says we are all in this together and that regardless of our individual spiritual path we are all bound for the arms of God. There is a wonderful greeting offered to us from the Sanskrit language. The greeting is contained in one word: “Namaste,” which means that the Divine in me acknowledges and bows to the Divine in you. It is in this beautiful unitive spirit that Christ lives. It is within this spirit that God calls us together as one. This is the Christmas spirit. And it is in this spirit that we can all clear the way for peace.