While searching for the full set of lyrics to Silent Night, I was surprised by two things: 1) I knew all three verses! That doesn't always happen as I was expecting to find an additional 1-2 sections of the song that I had never heard sung before. 2) I came across a book with an amazing title: Silent Night--The Remarkable 1914 Truce. It was a story I vaguely remembered hearing.
On Christmas Eve in 1914, in the midst of what was later to be called World War I (WWI), soldiers from opposing sides agreed on a truce. According to an article from The New York Times, approximately 100,000 soldiers (mainly Germans and British) participated first cautiously then happily in the cease-fire.
The Christmas Truce sounded a lot like what many of us would recognize as part of celebrating the day: plenty of drinking, watching and playing sports like "football" (aka "soccer" to most Americans), singing Christmas carols, decorating Christmas trees, listening to Christmas sermons, etc. While the vast majority of troops enjoyed an end to hostilities, a certain German corporal who's first name was Adolf and last name was Hitler scolded his counterparts for failing to honor their obligations as soldiers to engage in war.
All in all, it was the first time in months that the noise of war was muffled. For once, they enjoyed a Silent Night.
But it was short-lived. By December 26th, hostilities were renewed and men who sang together, shared meals around the same table and even professed to worship the same God renewed the antagonism and the call to arms was answered. This wasn't a bittersweet moment, but a hope that died as the flower of tragedy bloomed.
Now I don't want to be labeled a pacifist, but it seems to me that people who could celebrate Christmas with "the enemy" and then return to being enemies within a 24-hour period don't really understand the holy day. Christmas is more than an interruption. It's the celebration of God's decision to halt hostilities and make for peace with His enemies; eternal peace through the death of His Son and ultimate restoration through the resurrection of Christ. Romans 5:1 declares,
"Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
As much as one might criticize those soldiers, the challenge for us all is the same. Will Christmas merely be an interruption in our self-centered lives where we give gifts as if to exonerate ourselves from the shame of our self-absorption all year long? Will Christmas merely be a cease-fire between ourselves and God as we put on a good face for Mom by coming to church for the sake of the day but not for the sake of the Savior celebrated on that day? Prayerfully Christmas will not be a day to enjoy pretend peace with God. Especially when He has gone so far out of His way to offer permanent peace.