God’s Peace at Christmas

World War I was a terrible war. The total deaths, both military and civilian, were 20 million with another 21 million casualties. The guns began firing across the green fields of France and Belgium in August 1914 and by Christmas Day had already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. In October 2014 the British army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties at the First Battle of Ypres alone. Many of the soldiers on both sides were ordinary men who had volunteered to serve their country expecting the war would not last long. By Christmas Day 1914 they were far from home and loved ones and fearing for their lives.

Then on Christmas Eve something unexpected happened. The torrential rain had stopped, and a white frost had begun to settle across some sections of the line, like a white Christmas snowfall. On their side of No Man’s Land British soldiers noticed that the German troop’s guns had fallen silent. Private Albert Moren of the Second Queen’s Regiment said, “It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white everywhere when at about seven or eight in the evening there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and there were lights. Then they sang ‘Silent Night’ – ‘Stille Nacht’. I shall never forget it; it was one of the highlights of my life. What a beautiful tune.”

The image of German soldiers lighting candles in their trenches and the sound of their gentle singing drifting across the killing fields of No Man’s Land is deeply moving. Along the line, German soldiers held up white flags, or messages asking the Tommies facing them not to shoot. Men who had been engaged in desperate fighting days or even hours before had begun to feel illuminated by remembering the birth of Jesus. Soon they were singing together. A British soldier recalled, “A German said, ‘Tomorrow you no shoot, we no shoot.’ When the morning came, and we didn’t shoot, and they didn’t shoot.” On Christmas morning German and British soldiers congregated in No Man’s Land shook hands, sang songs, and exchanged gifts. Around 100,000 British soldiers were said to have laid down their arms and engaged with their German counterparts.

This Christmas many people around the world will be caught up in wars and conflicts. There is no-one else in all history who loves them as Jesus does. He can give them his peace in the midst of the horrors they are experiencing. The words of the carol the German soldiers sang in 1914 still speak to our hearts, “Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light, radiant beams from thy holy face with dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.”

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