(First off, I would like to say thank you to Lee Camp for the inspiration for this message. I have read several accounts of this story and put it together as a story below. This was my Christmas Eve message at our 2010 Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.)
Ninety-six years ago to the day, the world was at war. It was Christmas Eve 1914. Thousands of soldiers found themselves lying in cold, mud-filled trenches on the dreary battlefield of France. Emperor and King had called the men to war. Of course, as is always true of world superpowers, both sides claimed God to be on their side. They believed it would be a short war and that perhaps the troops would be home for Christmas. But there they were, cold, wet and tired, hunkered down in muddy trenches on Christmas Eve.
Both sides were only a few hundred feet apart with nothing but a relatively flat area known as “No Man’s Land” between them. A stalemate had halted all but a scattered number of brief attacks. The only thing the soldiers could do was wait, watch and wallow in the muddy trenches. Sometimes the two enemies would yell at each other as some of the German soldiers had worked in Britain before the war, and so they shared common interests. Sometimes they would shout rude remarks towards one another providing for themselves entertainment. At other times conversations could be overheard, each man speaking in his own language. So there they were, cold, and wet on Christmas Eve and all they could do is watch and wait for further violence to begin.
The German soldiers had received small Christmas trees from the home front from Emperor Kaiser. As the dusk of Christmas eve fell, the soldiers decorated them with candles and placed them at the top edge of their trenches. It is said that hundreds of Christmas trees lit the German trenches and that the french and british troops could see these small lit trees.
At one point someone signaled for silence and across “No Mans Land” came the melodic sound of a tired German voice:
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht…
Though the French and English did not understand the words they were familiar with the story, they knew the tune and the knew the occasion. Many of the English responded with a Christmas hymn of their own:
On the first Noel…
It is said that Christmas caroling went on for hours until later that night a German soldier was sighted making his way across “No Man’s Land.” With their rifles loaded and ready the English prepared to fire, until someone spotted a truce flag in one hand and a small lit Christmas tree in the other. The Christmas tree was of the ones Kaiser had sent to the German troops for Christmas. It was a Christmas Eve gift offering to his enemies.
The English came out, the germans came out and they began wishing one another a merry Christmas. Small gifts from their respective countries were exchanged between enemies, food, buttons, christmas trees, and cigarettes. Even family photographs were being shown. One old veteran said they were conversing as if they had known each other for years.
So it began, a Christmas party in the midst of a war. They were no longer merely soldiers. They were sons, fathers, husbands and some even brothers in Christ. Despite their uniforms and allegiance to their country, for a few brief hours they lived as though they were the same.
The sun arose on Christmas day and each side stepped back out in to “No Man’s Land” to sort through their dead and bury their fallen comrades. In a few rare instances, joint services were held for the English and German dead. Soon Christmas day came and went. These sons, fathers, husbands and some, brothers in Christ, became enemies once again and the fighting ensued. As one old vet said, “It was as if everything went back to normal.”
It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Yet on Christmas Eve 2010, we find ourselves in the midst of a world still at war. So on this Christmas Eve, we remember and we pray.
We remember and pray that the One who came 2000 years ago to bring love, peace and deliverance can in this day still bring us love, peace, and deliverance; deliverance from what we have come to believe and accept as normal.
We pray for deliverance from the normalcy of war; from the normalcy of pride; from the normalcy of consumerism; from the normalcy of prejudice; from the normalcy of sorrow and loneliness. We pray for deliverance from the normalcy of all of our obsessions, especially those obsessions that are dressed up in the clothes of religion and moralism. We pray for deliverance from the normalcy of a world full of individuals and families who, day after day, consistently seek to find ways to save themselves.
We pray for the complete coming of Jesus‘ prophetic call: where all people of every race, nationality, social class, or past, can come once again to the manger where the Savior of the world once laid His head, and then watch Him willingly walk to the cross where He died, and finally take a glance in to the tomb where He was buried but was raised from the dead so that all people would see that He came to set the world free from what is so-called normal.
We pray that we would all believe and understand that in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God began a new thing. He ushered in a new regime, one called the Kingdom of God which calls for a new salvation-birthed life where love, joy and peace may be known and where His divine presence may be felt both now and forever. This Kingdom creates a new reality where all people can become one as they place their trust in Christ Jesus as Lord and King. It is a reality that proclaims that only in Jesus Christ can man, woman and child find a faithful love in the midst of lovelessness, deep joy in the midst of sorrow, abiding peace in the midst of chaos, steadfast hope in the midst of hopelessness, and eternal life in the midst of death.
For unto you a child is born. He is Savior and Lord, King of kings. He was born, He has lived, He has died and He has risen again and still lives and will reign over all Creation both now and forevermore. He invites you to know Him and to join Him, as in His birth He wants you to know that you are loved by Him. His name is Jesus, God with us.