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Thoughts on the Christmas Truce from Kathryn Slattery

Dear Friends,

Christmas greetings! I want to start by saying how thankful I am that you continue to allow me to pass along these weekly thoughts into your inbox! One of my passions is to share things I have found in my reading that have been helpful, uplifting, challenging, or beneficial in my spiritual walk, hoping it will help you as well. And with this selection I also pray that in your Christmas observance this weekend you might sense His living presence and be nourished in your soul by hearing the glad tidings all over again!

My ‘thought’ for you today is a glimpse into what we would wish were more common. An event I call a beautiful exception! A time where something happens that is so out of the ordinary that people pause and ask – is it really true, or made up? One such occurrence took place in WWI. It’s the well-documented story that has inspired millions because contrary to human nature – it actually happened! It’s the famous “Christmas Truce” that took place on Christmas Eve and throughout Christmas Day, December 24-25, 1914.

I first read about it years ago, but every so often I still like to go back and read about it again, since it displays one of the things that Christmas, as a celebration of the coming of the Prince of Peace, is intended to do: Encourage people to let go of animosity, bitterness, hatred, unforgiveness, and needless hostility, and put life back into its proper perspective in light of Jesus birth. 

For those who have never heard of it before, I offer this short summary as your introduction, and if you are familiar with it, maybe you can just pause, read about it once more, and be inspired all over again! This short account of the event is written by Kathryn Slattery, and is taken from her devotional, “365 Answers for Curious Kids.” Enjoy.

The Christmas Miracle of 1914
“War is a terrible thing. Historians agree that one of the deadliest conflicts in human history was World War I, which raged from July 28, 1914, to November 11, 1918, and claimed more than 16 million lives. It was the first “modern” war, using mechanized tanks with powerful artillery, airplanes, machine guns, and poison gas. Worst of all for soldiers was the trench warfare, where troops shot at each other from hundreds of miles of deep trenches dug into the ground. Life in the muck and disease-filled trenches was miserable. To leave one’s trench was to risk being shot and killed. The distance between the opposing trenches was known as “No Man’s Land,” and littered with dead soldiers.

On Christmas Eve, 1914, along the war’s Western Front in Flanders, Belgium, a miracle took place. On one side were the English and the French, hunkered down in their trenches. On the other side, doing the same, were the Germans. The war had been raging for five months. It was a bitter cold night.

Suddenly, an English soldier scanning the German enemy line spotted a small fir tree decorated with twinkling candles. He readjusted his binoculars and squinted, disbelieving. And then, drifting across the frozen ground of No Man’s Land, came a low rumble—not of guns—but of German soldiers singing, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht…” softly at first, and then louder with each verse. Although the words were foreign, the carol’s tune—and its message—was unmistakable. The English and French troops responded, raising their voices, and singing, “Silent Night, Holy Night… / “Douce Nuit, Sainte Nuit…” Back and forth, back and forth, the men exchanged verses in English, French and German. This went on for several minutes. Then, from the depths of a German trench, a soldier raised a crudely written sign: “YOU NO SHOOT, WE NO SHOOT.” In response, the English and French soldiers waved a ragged banner that read: “MERRY CHRISTMAS.”

Cautiously, the unarmed men began to emerge from their trenches. Slowly, they crossed the dreaded No Man’s Land, where they stood face-to-face in the frosty air. For a moment, the highly trained soldiers didn’t know quite what to do. Awkwardly, they extended and shook each other’s hands. They clapped one another’s shoulders. They embraced. Some turned their heads, to hide their tears. They gave each other permission to collect and properly bury their dead. They exchanged prisoners.

And then, for the remainder of that miraculous night and throughout Christmas Day, they sang carols and exchanged gifts of cake, chocolates, biscuits, jam, canned beef, pork and beans, newspapers, postcards, and wine. They even played an impromptu game of soccer with a makeshift ball fashioned from a large tin can. “For an instant, the God of goodwill was once more master of this corner of the earth,” recalled one French officer.

The Christmas miracle of 1914 was nothing less than the supernatural love and peace of Jesus breaking through and touching human hearts in a very big and powerful way. Although it lasted but one night and a day, it was a fleeting glimpse of heaven on earth. It was what Christmas is all about.”

There are many stories of people laying down their hostilities for Jesus’ sake, individually, but few on such a large scale. The “truce” was a spontaneous ceasefire initiated by the soldiers (not their superiors) and involving an estimated 100,000 men along a lengthy section of the western front in France, where the Germans were fighting both the British and the French. It was spawned by the singing of ’'Silent Night, Holy Night” as the tune (simultaneously sung in three languages) resounded across the ghostly tranquility of the dark battlefield.

Since it wasn't an official cease fire, the truce was observed differently at the different points along the front. Unfortunately, these unofficial truces were short-lived. When military superiors got wind of them, the troops were ordered back to their trenches, and that little window of heaven breaking in upon the earth for a short time closed. The fighting would resume and persist for another 4 years, taking the lives of up to an estimated 10 million soldiers and 11 million civilians.

If Only our Focus on Jesus Could be Unbroken, Pastor Jeff


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