Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Christmas Truce

Picture from The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: 
A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches" (photo source: wikipedia)

It was the winter of 1914. World War 1, which had been predicted to be a short-lived war, was now raging on in it’s 5th month. On the battlefields of Flanders, a northern region of Belgium, one of the most unusual events in all of human history took place. The Germans had been engaged in a fierce battle with the British and French. Both sides were dug in, finding safety in muddy, man-made trenches that were six to eight feet deep and seemed to stretch forever. 

And then on Christmas Eve, one century ago, German troops began to place small Christmas trees, lit with candles, outside of their trenches. Then, they began to sing Christmas songs. From across the "no man's land" that separated the enemy sides, came echoing carols from the British and French troops. Incredibly, many of the Germans were able to speak enough English to propose a "Christmas" truce. 

The British and French troops, all along the miles of trenches, accepted. And as a result, a spontaneous truce commenced. In a few places, allied troops fired at the Germans as they climbed out of their trenches, but the Germans persisted that Christmas would be celebrated, even if under the threat of death.

Signboards arose, up and down the trenches, in a variety of shapes and sizes. Make-shift 'MERRY CHRISTMAS' banners popped up on both sides. And the most frequently used German message, penned in fractured English was "YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT."  

Soldiers continued to courageously leave their trenches, meeting in the middle to shake hands and seal this temporary truce. Their first order of business was to bury the dead who had been previously unreachable because of the conflict. Then, these enemy soldiers found common ground as they exchanged gifts of chocolate cake, cognac, postcards, newspapers, and tobacco. And in a few places this stretch of trenches, soldiers exchanged rifles for soccer balls and played friendly matches. 

It didn't last forever. After all, the two sides were at war. Soldiers eventually did resume firing at each other. But for a few precious moments there was peace on earth and good will toward men on the Western front of a world at war. All because the focus was on Christmas. There's something about Christmas that changes people. It happened over 2000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem and it's been happening over and over again down through the years. 

What about today? Does Christmas still have the power to change us? Because what about the lines we draw in life that keep others at bay? What about those trenches we dig that serve to insulate us, separate us and make us more like enemies than people created equally in the sight of God? You know those lines right? Lines of political ideaologies or socioeconomic level. The trenches of gender and race. 

Our world needs another Christmas truce. The people who live in the unrest of the Middle East need it. The people of Ferguson, MO need it. The family of Eric Garner needs it. Flint, MI needs it. Husbands and wives need it. Parents and children need it. We need a truce that draws us out of our defensive posture and into a place of mutual trust and respect for those we may have viewed as enemy.

What if we held up our own kind of signs in the trenches of our own living? Placards that didn’t say “Merry Christmas” but things like, “TELL ME WHAT IT'S LIKE TO LIVE YOUR LIFE” or “I WANT TO HEAR YOU MORE AND UNDERSTAND YOU BETTER.” What if our signboards read “MY CONCERN FOR YOU OUTWEIGHS MY JUDGMENT OF YOU.” What if we raised banners that said “BLACK LIVES MATTER” or “CHILDREN ARE VALUABLE” or “FATHERS ARE IMPORTANT.” What if I forfeit my right to be angry and ring out an anthems of “YOU ARE LOVED.” What if we surrendered our propensity to keep score and simply held up a sign saying “I’M SORRY” or “I FORGIVE YOU.” 

What if this Christmas, the baby in the manger who was destined to bear the weight of the cross, actually changed our battle cries into words of reconciliation and justice? What if we actually lived life as if peace on earth were possible because the Prince of all Peace lay in a manger?

I say we call a Christmas truce. Not a Christmas truce because it will only last the one day of Christmas, but because this Christmas we have committed to walk the path of peace. This Christmas, let's call a truce from all the things that would keep us divided and choose to bridge the gap. Let's seek to understand more than we seek to be understood. Seek to love more than we seek to be loved. Seek to forgive more than we seek to be forgiven.

There is a God who loved each of us enough to send His only Son for this reason - that there might be peace once again on earth. Peace between God and man, and peace between man and man.

We have been a people who have walked in great darkness.  But cradled in a manger of hay, Light has come. Nestled in the town of Bethlehem, a Savior has been born. Christmas has come. And Christmas changes things. Let’s call a christmas truce and move toward peace, love, justice, and hope. It’s possible because Jesus has made His dwelling among us.

Emmanuel is here. God is with us. All is well. May we come out from behind the battle lines and climb out of our trenches and begin a new kind of Christmas truce that holds up life. All life. Everywhere.

I pray the Holy Spirit will begin and continue a work in your heart and mine that will lead us to be people who walk the way of peace and justice and compassion. It’s the way of Christ. And it is the light for our path that offers hope for our world. Light has come. It’s Christmas. And I want to call a truce.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace...Ephesians 2:14a; 15b