Every Sunday, our church prays for members of the military that have lost their lives in service to our country the previous week. There were more name this Sunday. Several soldiers were killed by an IED while serving in Afghanistan. And now this week comes the news of the unfathomable tragedy in Connecticut.
The loss of these children and young men and women seems particularly cruel in this season of light and giving, and I wonder if this time of year will ever again be a joyous one for their families.
There is a story I love about the World War I Christmas Truce. It was Christmas Eve 1914, and British and German soldiers faced each other across a muddy, artillery-scarred field. They had been fighting over the same few yards of ground since August with little progress. Both sides had rejected a Christmas cease-fire, and that December, the men were weary, numb, and far from home.
As night fell, the Germans lit candles and propped Christmas trees against the walls of their trenches. The British soldiers began to hear the sounds of familiar Christmas Carols drifting across the field. Soon, men from both sides were crawling out of their trenches and moving towards each other across “no man’s land.” That evening, and into the next day, soldiers from both sides were trading gifts of cigarettes and cake, playing soccer, and taking up the solemn business of helping each other bury their dead. They drifted back into their own trenches sometime on Christmas day, but for the next week, both sides fired only half-hearted rounds into the sky.
There are similar stories from World War II, when German and American soldiers spent the bitter, stark Christmas of 1944 in the snowy Ardennes Forest. As the Americans spent the eerily quiet evening huddled together in their foxholes against the biting cold, they became aware of the sound of German voices singing Stille Nacht -- Silent Night. A voice took up the song in English, and soon the air was filled with the sound of German and American voices singing together in their own languages.
Although it would be months before Germany surrendered, and several millions of lives were lost before Armistice Day in 1918, I still love the message of hope in these stories. How fitting that peace came to a torn, violent world in the same way that the Christmas holiday brings light to a cold, dark winter. How in simple, small gestures we show the best in humanity.
I pray that it is a light that touches all of us this Christmas. The servicemen and women who are far from friends and families, their loves ones at home, and especially those who are hurting and grieving this season. I pray that they find joy and peace.
We will sing “Silent Night” this Christmas Eve at church. We will be safe and happy, surrounded by family. But it will be hard not to think about long-ago Christmases when the world was torn apart and young men far from home came together in the spirit of hope and understanding.
And how there was, for a time, Peace on Earth.
Merry Christmas to you and all those you love, both near and far.