Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Christmas Truce

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Christmas is a time for joy and celebration---a time for giving and receiving.

It can also be a time for "truce."

Christmas 1914 was such a Christmas. World War I was raging, men were dying from exposure and from bullets.

Some years later, in 1981, Private Stan Brown told historian Paul Nixon, "On Christmas Eve, as far as we were concerned, we was still at war, but in the evening on sentry-go we heard singing from 'Jerry'."

He decided to investigate "Jerry" (the enemy), "We were shocked," he recalls, "to see flags with 'Happy Christmas' from the Jerry's end."

After analyzing their enemy and reaching the conclusion that the enemy was safe---at the moment---Pete says he "and the rest of his trench decided to creep forward."

History records this day as the "Christmas Truce." More on that in a moment.

My favorite American poet once fought his own personal battle at Christmas, but his was a battle rooted not in politics or hate, but in grief.

He, too, found a Christmas Truce.

Pete says on "Jerry's wire there were bits of paper, bits of rags and all sorts of things saying 'Happy Christmas,' some in German, some in English."

He says, "Everybody was dubious in our trench, saying kind of, should we or shouldn't we and all that bloomin' caper, and then two Germans come up."

Things progressed and as Christmas Eve turned to Christmas Day, the men exchanged a few gifts and sang some Christmas songs together.

As other "trenches" discovered what was happening they too called a truce and celebrated Christmas together.

This is a link to a more in depth account of this historic event. It's inspiring, even though the truce lasted only a matter of hours, it happened in the spirit of Christmas.

It was a miracle.

The Prince of Peace brings two kinds of peace to the world.

First, peace "with" God, because Jesus is the only way to God and to personal peace. He is the Author of Peace: "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace..." (1 Corinthians 14:33). "And now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace in every way..." (2 Thessalonians 2:16). "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).

Secondly, we can have the peace "of" God.

We can experience it. "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts..." (Colossians 3:15).

We can be empowered by the Holy Spirit of God.

We can be encouraged by the Word of God. "Great peace have those who love your law, And nothing causes them to stumble" (Psalm 119:165).

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was at the peak of success as a poet. He had actively supported Abraham Lincoln for President. Lincoln's election gave hope to many in our nation.

But things turned dark for Longfellow and for our nation as well.

The Civil War began the following year and Longfellow's wife, whom he loved deeply, died of severe burns after her dress caught fire from a candle in Longfellow's study.

Longfellow himself sustained severe burns on his hands and face while trying to save his wife. He was so badly burned he was unable to attend her funeral.

Following her death, Longfellow, who was writing some of the most popular poems in the country, published in the most influential and read publications, slipped into the darkness of grief and despair.

On Christmas Day 1861 he wrote in his diary, "How inexpressibly sad are the holidays."

By 1862, the Civil War had escalated and the death toll was mounting. In his diary that year Longfellow wrote, "A Merry Christmas, say the children, but that is no more for me."

In 1863, Longfellow's son, who had run away to join the Union Army, was severely wounded and returned home in December. There was no entry in his diary for that Christmas Day.

There was no joy. There was no peace.

Longfellow wanted to pull out of his despair, he believed in God, but the despair seemed overpowering. He began to do what he knew best---he began to write.

He began:
"I heard the bells on Christmas Day,
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Longfellow continued to write, and as he came to the sixth stanza, he paused. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark---he pondered how can I write about peace on earth, good will to men in this war torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?

But he kept writing.
"And in despair I bowed my head,
'There is no peace on earth,' I said;
For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!"
Then the flame of hope and faith and trust and peace began to flicker in Longfellow. The eternal perspective of Christmas was reborn in his heart and mind---the message of Christ Himself. The peace of God that passes all understanding began to overflow his heart.

With strong pen, I'm sure, he wrote:
"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
God is not dead, nor does He sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace of earth, good will to men."
And we continue to sing his words today..."I heard the bells on Christmas Day..."

Listen. Be Blessed. Merry Christmas.