"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill to all people." Luke 2:14
It is sad to think this Christmas season that in the very place where the angels uttered these immortal words there is no peace. There may be no traditional Christmas celebration in Bethlehem's Manger Square again this year when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. But we need not despair. God will find a way to make peace in Bethlehem and Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else where people are hurting one another. God always finds a way.
Eighty-nine years ago, on the first Christmas Day during World War I, British and German troops put down their guns and celebrated peacefully together in the no-man's land between the trenches. The war briefly came to a halt. In some places festivities began when German troops lit candles on Christmas trees on their parapets so the British sentries a few hundred yards away could see them. Elsewhere, the British acted first, starting bonfires and setting off rockets.
Private Oswald Tilley of the London Rifle Brigade wrote to his parents: "Just you think that while you were eating turkey, I was out talking and shaking hands with the very men I had been trying to kill a few hours before! It was astounding."
Both armies had received lots of comforts from home and felt generous and well-disposed toward their enemies the first winter of the war, before the vast battles of attrition began in 1915, eventually claiming 10 million lives.
All along the line that Christmas Day, soldiers found their enemies were much like them and began asking why they should be trying to kill each other. The generals were shocked. High command diaries and statements express their anxiety that if that sort of thing spread it could sap the troops' will to fight. The soldiers in khaki and gray sang carols to each other, exchanged gifts of tobacco, jam, sausage, chocolate, and liquor, traded names and addresses, and played soccer between the shell holes and barbed wire. They even paid mutual trench visits.
This day is called the most famous truce in military history.
May there be a Christmas truce in Bethlehem, in Jerusalem, and in every place in the world where violence reigns. This is our prayer on Christmas Eve as we sing "Silent Night, Holy Night" and "Let There Be Peace on Earth."