A Musing about WWI and Christmas
I often struggle with which stories to use in my Midweek Musing and my sermons. I try to determine which ones would fit best in writing and which would be better told orally. Sometimes the story is so powerful that it wouldn’t really matter how it is shared – when that is the case, I sometimes feel like just flipping a coin with heads being used in a Musing and tails being shared in a Sermon.
I shared this dilemma recently with one parishioner and they tried to put my mind at ease. They said some of you just skim and don’t actually read these musings and some of you are not listening to me anyway (and then he looked over at my daughter Sydney), and the rest of you all are as Zechariah described his wife Elizabeth in Luke’s gospel “getting on in years” and can’t even remember when or where you heard a story. In fact, he said some of you can’t always remember if you took your vitamins to help your memory every day. Of course, that is why I have an app on my phone so I can check off when I take mine – I just have to remember where I put my phone.
So, I hope you will forgive me if after I use this story in this Musing, it finds its way into a sermon as well.
So, I had heard this story somewhere before. I’d forgotten about it until I was reminded of it very recently when I heard Garth Brooks sing a song about it on a CD. After listening to it two or three times I decided to see if the song was based on fact or just beautiful fiction. To my joy the story the song shares is based on true events.
In fact, Dr. Stanley Weintraub, who was the Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Arts and Humanities at Penn State University, researched this event in history using a variety of both primary and secondary sources to prove what occurred. He then authored a book about it which he entitled Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce.
Dr. Weintraub wrote a number of books about Christmas events during war times, and I may or may not have ordered a few of them from a used bookstore website… but I digress.
I think part of what made this story special this year was the theme of Close to Home, which is our theme for this 2021 Advent Season. Because as the story shows if we but open our heart, the Kingdom of God - our true home - can be seen even if only in glimpses. And the good news it is available even in the darkest days because of the grace of God.
Now in this story from 1914 and a bloody World War I European battlefield, we get an amazing glimmer into the kingdom of God and that promised day we are living towards.
The story is that on Christmas Eve, German troops began to put up small Christmas trees, lit with candles, outside their trenches, and they sang Christmas carols.
From the other side of the “no man’s land,” British and French troops responded with carols of their own. Soon the German soldiers proposed a Christmas truce, and the British and French units agreed. This was nothing formal, nothing worked out by generals, just a spontaneous concurrence between common soldiers in the front-line trenches. Handmade signs popped up with messages like, “You no fight, we no fight” and “Merry Christmas.”
Soon soldiers from both sides left their trenches and shook hands. Next, they began to bury their dead who had been lying unreachable in no man’s land. Then they even began to share gifts — foodstuffs that had been sent to the front lines for the holiday. In some sectors, the two sides put down their rifles and played soccer.
Of course, it couldn’t last beyond a couple of days. The generals didn’t like it, and they soon commanded the troops to begin firing at each other again. For a few days, both sets of troops tried to keep the spirit of peace going, by firing into the air instead of at each other, but the generals soon made them aim.
But still, the truce happened, inspired by Christmas. And it tells us that peace on earth is not an impossible dream, just a difficult one.
I hope you read that last sentence or will say it aloud if you need to hear it or write it down on a sticky note and put it where you will see it. (The refrigerator works for me.)
“Peace on earth is not an impossible dream, just a difficult one.”
The song by Garth Brooks says it this way – “Heaven is not beyond the clouds It’s just beyond the fear. No heavens not beyond the clouds. It’s for us to find it here.”
Of course, such peace starts with our own lives and families and communities. It starts with us each doing the good that is ours to do. And if we each do it perhaps, we will inspire others to put down their weapons of hate and fear and the angel’s song will come true, and we will glimpse the promise of peace on earth and goodwill to all.
In the name of God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Alleluia Amen.
Here is a YouTube link to the song I referenced.