Thursday, December 25, 2014


Because this year marks the 100th anniversary of its occurrence, there have been quite a few articles and stories written about what is known as the 1914 Christmas truce.  It is the legendary story of British and German soldiers on the western front of World War I, ceasing hostilities on that Christmas and actually joining each other in companionship, playing soccer and singing Christmas carols together.  Movies and books have been written, dramatizing the occurrence and it has become a hopeful symbol of the possible.  The reality is the Christmas day truce, was the culmination of what had become an ordinary occurrence.  Soldiers on the front were in such close proximity to each other that they would shout to each other in conversation.  They develop agreements not to attack each other at tea, meal or washing times.  They allowed each other the opportunity to peacefully recover the deceased and injured.  During these breaks they were known to exchange small gifts and cigarettes.  One historian reflected on these truce experiences as one that “gave soldiers some control over the conditions of their existence.” The December 1914 Christmas Truce was not a unique event, but a result of the closeness they had already developed.

What I find most interesting about the famous Christmas truce is that it was not a political or humanitarian decision from above, it came genuinely from the men in the trenches.  Such truces were discussed and proposed by various leaders, but few believed it was possible and some saw it as weakness.  Pope Benedict XV is known for appealing to the heads of state to avoid the war before it began and at the beginning of that December begged again that the warring nations would embrace a Christmas truce. His appeal fell on deaf ears.  The truce happened not as a top down order, but a grass roots gesture of human decency.  The enemy was so close, their deplorable living conditions similar, and they all shared the same desire to return to their families.  They had more in common than they had differences – and those common desires evolved into a unifying peace -- which perhaps was the most authentic celebration of the birth of the savior that one could have. 
We've lived for many years now in a new kind of war. One hundred years after the First World War, we are still longing for a peaceful world.  We feel powerless and we find ourselves saying someone needs to do something.  We look to our leaders and to Pope Francis for the answers and direction; but the world doesn't seem to change.  Within our own nation and our own city we have been living a painful war these last few months.  In the wake of the assassination of two police officers – political leaders and clergy have called for a truce to this war but the protests and rhetoric go on. We have battles in our own personal lives too, wars at home.  How many of us have asked our mother what she wants for Christmas only to receive the reply, “I just want everyone in this family to get along.”
In the divine wisdom of God, the savior of the world is not an earthly king, a soldier or even a member of the religious establishment – but a savior who is close to us in our humanity.  The salvation that we seek from the battles of our lives is found when we draw close to this child born in a manger.
God himself literally comes across the line to be in humanity, because God sees himself in us. We are made in his image and likeness – so we may know peace.
On the western front of World War I, soldiers drew close to the child as they spent time with the savior who was present in their enemy across the line – and they knew peace.

Through the words of the Gospel, the reception of the Holy Eucharist and our meditation on the nativity scene before us, - we draw close to the Lord and we hope for his peace.
When we have the courage to cross the lines of life and see our God in our enemies and our agitators, we know the saviors peace.
With whom do we need to come to a truce?  Who is across the table, across the street, down the hall, around the corner, in the next town over, the bordering nation or across the globe who bears the same struggles and the same Christ as me?    Can we look across these battle lines of life and see a brother or sister whose joys and sorrows are the same as mine?  Who simply longs for peace like I do?
We heard St. Paul in his letter to Titus say, “our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy.”  God looks across the battle front of human history and he sees his Son in us, he sees his sons and daughters – and without merit, he extends his mercy, there is peace.  When we look across the battle fronts of our lives – we can’t help but see Jesus.  The innocent child born of meager means, the man on the cross who dies for us; calling us to be merciful.  No one deserves mercy – it is a sacrificial gift which is the seed of peace.
In the folklore of the telling of the 1914 Christmas truce, it is often recounted that the carol the soldiers sang together was, Stille Nacht - Silent Night.  This probably was not accurate, since the German song was not yet well known to the English speaking Brits.  It is more accurately believed that what they sang together was, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” because both the German and English speakers would know the tune and its Latin lyrics.  Moreover, this carol more accurately reflects what made the truce possible; faith and the faithful.  Not leaders and governments – the faithful who come to adore Christ.

The birth of Jesus, God made man, is the manifestation of the divine truth that a genuine peace happens when the desire to be right is sacrificed for the greater desire of mercy.  The child in our midst draws us close this day and every day so we may recognize him in friend and adversary, extinguishing our thirst to battle and fostering in us the desire to manifest divine peace.