The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 2nd Chapter
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
One hundred years ago tonight, something remarkable happened. World War I was only months old, but after the initial flurry, both the Germans and the Allies had dug into trenches that stretched 440 miles across the Western Front from the boarder with Switzerland to the North Sea. In places, the trenches were just yards apart.
The remarkable thing that happened 100 years ago tonight, is that at some point, a soldier on the German side put a make shift Christmas tree up on top of his trench and lit it up with candles. Then he started singing Silent Night. The English and the French on the other side didn’t know the German words but they knew the tune and they too began to sing. Then, slowly... here and there... someone would stick their head up out of the trench to see if the other side would shoot. No one did.
Make shift signs from the German side, written in broken English began to appear. “WE NO FIGHT. YOU NO FIGHT.” The English made make shift banners that said MERRY CHRISTMAS and put them up and waited for a response. Eventually men climbed out of the trenches and headed across no-man’s-land to meet with soldiers on the other side. The first thing they did was to retrieve their wounded and their dead together. They attended the burials of one another’s fallen soldiers and then exchanged food, tobacco and souvenirs with one another. They sang more carols with more familiar tunes and played soccer.
It has since become known as the Christmas Truce. It was a truce that didn’t come negotiated by diplomats or ordered from above. It came literally from the people in the trenches. It was VERY unofficial and in fact, the leadership... the brass... didn’t particularly like it at all... but it happened none the less. It started with one person... just one tired, lonely, wet and hungry person who decided to put up a make shift Christmas tree and sing Silent Night instead of choosing to continue the fight. The choice that one person made... to set up a tree and sing rather than fight... spread up and down the line on both sides.
In all of the accounts I read of this, words like “unbelievable,” “impossible,” “unprecidented” or “up side down” are always used to describe this Christmas truce. But what if, for just that short amount of time, there in the spaces between the trenches of a war that would eventually claim the lives of eight and a half million people... what if... right there in the power of Christmas... in the power of Emmanuel... the power of “God with us”... what if the world wasn’t UP SIDE DOWN, but instead... in that brief time where grudges and hatred and anger and violence were set aside... what if in those moments, the world was really, for a change, actually... RIGHT SIDE UP?
Why is it, that we think that returning violence for violence is normal? Why do we believe hatred and grudges and being divided and holding onto old hurts and offenses... some of them generations old, is “normal” BUT setting aside all that pain and hurt and sharing a drink and food and some songs is “unbelievable” and “up side down”? This story from 100 years ago tonight reminds us, that with the power of Christmas... with the power of God coming in Christ to live among us, the ways of pain and hurt and resentment that so many in the world call “normal” are really not at ALL “normal” and don’t have to be our ways any more.
After all, if a soldier that had been shot at, shelled and bombarded... if a soldier who had been living in the mud and muck of a barbed wire lined trench with not enough to eat or drink... if a soldier who had been through all of that could decide, strengthened by the power of Christmas, to set up a little, candle lit tree and sing Silent Night instead of holding onto hate and grudges and continuing to fight, isn’t there a chance that with the power of Christmas... with the power of God’s love lying in the manger, we could do it too?
You and I don’t have a world war to set aside, but each of us have people who have hurt us and wronged us. We’ve been told that holding onto resentments, hurts and division is “normal”... that getting even is simply how the world works... that any other way would turn the world UPSIDE DOWN. This Christmas story reminds us... It’s just not true! Hate, fear, violence, revenge and grudges aren’t “normal” and they don’t bring us life. This Christmas story reminds us in one more powerful way, that living in Christ... practicing lives of love, peace, generosity, compassion and sharing with one another is REALLY how God intends us to live and live abundantly!
One Hundred years ago it started with just one soldier... just one! He set up a make shift Christmas tree and let the power of God in Christ begin to work. The power of Christ, it turns out, had the power to transform the most violent place in the WHOLE WORLD that night. What would happen if we set that same power of Christ loose in the world again tonight? Why can’t we grab hold of the power of Christmas, set up a Christmas tree, sing carols together and allow the power of Christmas to begin to change our world? It started then with just one soldier, deciding to do something differently... is there any reason you and I could not choose, right here... right now, to do the same?
May THIS Christmas tree... our glowing candles... our singing and most importantly, the power of Emmanuel... the power of “God with us”... strengthen you to live differently... to pass on God’s infinite and unconditional love to everyone you meet in this coming year. May each of us choose each new day of this coming year, to live NOT by the ways that field marshals, generals, presidents, kings and kaisers say is “normal”, but instead choose to live “Right Side Up” in the power of Christmas, under the loving reign of the Prince of Peace. Amen.