My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?
Bob Hope, American film actor and comedian
Christmas calls us to peace with all people – even those different than ourselves.
It happened in the midst of the fiercest fighting of World War I. It spanned all 500 miles of the Western Front, a jagged ever-changing line separating British and German forces. Newspapers around the world hailed it as miracle.
"All I'd heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking, and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices,” said Alfred Anderson. "But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted 'Merry Christmas’ to each other.”
Anderson, who was 108 years old when he spoke those words, was the last survivor of the Christmas Truce of 1914, a spontaneous event that he experienced at 18 years of age and one that he had thought of every day since.
There are numerous first hand accounts from soldiers’ journals of how this seemingly spontaneous outburst got started. But the story most remembered was that a German soldier began singing “Stille Nacht” and his solo soon became a chorus as he was joined by English voices singing “Silent Night.” A British regiment serenaded the Germans with “The First Noel” and the Germans sang back to them, “O Tannenbaum.”
Men from both armies laid down their weapons and crept cautiously and then quickly into No Man’s Land to share food, cigars, drinks – and even play a game of soccer together.
Christmas has always been a time when people of all ages, races, and creeds come together to break bread peacefully. Like the Truce of 1914 sometimes even sworn enemies have laid aside historical and more recent hostilities.
In the Christmas story, a newborn Baby was given gifts by Wise Men from the East, probably Persians from a city in what is now Iran. When these Magi realized that King Herod was a threat to the Baby’s life, they protected him by returning home by a different route in order to keep his location a secret from the madman. This Baby was sheltered during his childhood in Egypt, a country that had fought many wars with his homeland.
When angels sang to shepherds, ‘Peace on Earth, good will to all men,” they announced the simple yet profound truth that enemies can be reconciled; that strangers can become friends; that those who think and believe differently can still be neighbors. Christmas was literally born in strife – but celebrated and protected by “foreigners” who were men and women of peace and good will.
As you experience the Christmas season this year, don’t think that peace is something to be negotiated by politicians between lands and peoples that are thousands of miles from your world. Begin with how you look at those who are different than you. Does your attitude proclaim that you are a person of peace and good will? Move closer to home and ask yourself if there is a relationship where you need to lay down weapons of anger and harmful words? Is there a person with whom you need to call a truce and be reconciled? Not just for a day but from this point forward?