Sermon at our Community Mass, 10:30 a.m., Sunday, December 24, 2017
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Our waiting is over! Tonight’s the night!
All over the world, angel choirs will sing:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Human choirs will sing of a Silent Night, Holy Night, where all is calm,
all is bright…
All over a world that doesn’t live in Peace or Good Will.
It was exactly like that a hundred three years ago today, 1914,
the world had erupted into the most savage war so far,
yet that Christmas Eve witnessed a Miracle of Grace, a miracle of Peace
and Good Will.
Christmas Eve 1914: the day of the Christmas Truce, the day the fighting
stopped, even if for just one day.
Just before Christmas, several peace initiatives had been floated.
Pope Benedict XV begged for an official truce between the warring
asking “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels
In Britain, 101 mothers sent an “Open Christmas Letter” addressed “To the
Women of Germany and Austria” in a public appeal for peace. Snubbed.
Then it was Christmas Eve.
The armies were dug into their trenches for hundreds of miles along the
border of Belgium and France, in a battle line that would not move
significantly for two years to come,
dug into No Man’s Land,
a wilderness of shattered trees,
ground plowed up by shellfire, scarred with bomb craters,
strewn with corpses of dead comrades and dead horses,
everything around them burned and destroyed.
The weather was December-cold, frost on the ground, campfires forbidden.
At dusk, like most evenings, the shooting on both sides let up a little,
rations were brought up to the front line,
and soldiers on both sides were able to collect their food and rest.
As night settled in, the same phenomenon occurred spontaneously up and
down the line.
Somewhere off in the distance, bells rang out in the villages …
For hundreds of miles, up and down the line, the bells of Christmas Eve …
Like Voices, light and sweet. And somehow grace touched cold human hearts.
First, the humming of childhood hymns, then soft singing,
then the singing grew louder.
The trench lines were close enough that enemies could hear each other,
they began singing to oppose each other, to taunt their opposite numbers.
Then they were singing carols to each other,
singing together in harmony.
From their same common tradition, Christmas Music calmed their savage
The trenches were so close that soldiers could shout greetings to each
other: ‘Merry Christmas, Englishmen’! Greetings were shouted back.
The Germans placed candles on their trenches,
held up Christmas trees with candles, with signs in English and French:
Allied soldiers raised signs with German words: “You no shoot – we no shoot”
Then a flag of truce, bright as a Christmas star.
Hesitatingly at first, large numbers on both sides began to leave their
trenches, unarmed, to meet between the lines.
Somehow they agreed – all on their own – not to fire at each other until
The artillery fell silent.
Not a shot was fired all night.
They say it started in Ypres, in West Belgium.
The fact is… that night, along two-thirds of the front, in different
roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in an unofficial
cessation of hostility along the Western Front, recorded by men from
various regiments and units,
their letters and diaries documenting how something so fantastically
Up and down the line, men shook hands, fraternized in the craters of No
swapped cigarettes, rations, schnapps, chocolates, in good fellowship,
officers exchanging wine, cognac, cigars, black bread, cookies and ham.
It had to be grace, because enemies don’t share food … friends do.
For one night, they unofficially and spontaneously ceased hostilities and
Looking back, it’s as though the prayers of Pope Benedict were answered,
and then some!
Come daylight, they helped each other recover dead comrades,
conducted joint burial services and prisoner swaps,
openly congregated in sunlight amidst one of the most violent events of
Soccer games kicked up among enemies, sometimes with tin-can footballs,
Saxons against Scots,
Brits against Germans,
Brits against Brits,
one historian reporting 29 separate soccer games along the line.
Their only field: their bombed-out No Man’s Land,
the score: usually 3 -2, in favor of whoever was writing the letter
A handful of German officers asked to see a field chaplain, so they could
return a chalice found on the battle field.
Christmas Day without shooting meant men could come out of their
mudholes, rest, exercise or work in full view of the enemy.
One lad, 18, wrote home to his Mum in Sheffield:
“No shooting … All day, Christmas Day… even as I write this …
marvelous, isn’t it?”
A few weeks later, newspapers had photographs of troops mingling and
singing, with stories that cheered the “lack of malice” felt by both
sides, regretting that “absurdity and tragedy” had to begin again.
Response from German headquarters was censorship, disapproval, and
reminders that fraternizing with the enemy constituted treason.
It didn’t happen again … Future Christmases became bitter and hateful,
not because of increased discipline, but because poison gas was
introduced, causing so many thousands of deaths in those same trenches.
But the Christmas Truce of 1914 was real! Not a myth … but a Miracle!
After months in the trenches where all they heard was whining of bullets
in flight, machinegun fire and commands from distant German voices,
what a blessing to have silence, the eerie sound of silence, a silent peace,
and shouts of “Merry Christmas, English!”
… to have your heart filled with thoughts of “Live and let live”!
… to have the frozen fields of France warmed by songs of Christmas peace!
… to have just one day on which soldiers could settle their accounts,
find their peace with God,
since so many that shared the Christmas Truce wouldn’t live to see
My brothers and sisters, our bells are ready to ring out Christmas …
How’s our gift list? Do we have a present for the Baby Jesus??
What if, for love of Him, we reached into our hearts,
to the battlelines dug into our hearts,
where we have bad blood, where we can’t say: “Live and let live”!
What if we admitted we’re tired of making war,
we want to lay down our own weapons and share a moment of peace,
we want to declare our own little truce.
What if we took the initiative,
offered gifts of love, peace and hope to those who may never have expected
them of us,
so that finally our hearts could really feel what the angels sang:
“Peace on earth, good will toward men.”
Bombs may not stop exploding in Iraq,
bullets may not stop flying in Syria,
– but at least there will be peace in our hearts!
That’s the present He wants us to bring Him as we sing:
Happy Birthday, Jesus!