On a dark Christmas Eve, many years ago, in a land far across the sea, men sat in muddy ditches, like the shepherds of long ago, warming their hands by crackling fires, freezing in the winter cold. The men around the field had been fighting something that they had begun to realize would not be a quick war. And, in those days, they found themselves in some of the most gruesome warfare that humankind had ever seen.
Nevertheless, that night, one side set up trees and lit candles upon their trench parapets. The stillness of that starry night was gently broken as voices began to sing a familiar tune, stille nacht, heilige nacht, alles schlaft, einsam wacht nur das traute hoch heilige Paar. Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar, schlafe in himmlischer ruh! Slowly and carefully, English voices joined their dulcet strains, sleep in heavenly peace.
As the carols continued, both sides raised signs that communicated their wish not to fight and banners that read “Merry Christmas.” On a field that the day before had been the sight of ghastly conflict, British and German soldiers met to shake hands and exchange gifts. They even played a game of football, by which of course I mean soccer, the next day, fraternizing with their supposed enemies.
It was only under the threat of court-marshal that they could be returned to fighting on the 26th. On that cold Christmas Eve night in 1914, a Christmas miracle appeared, bearing light into the darkest, most unexpected of places – in young men showing love to their fiercest enemy. Even if only for a moment, the earth stood still on its axis and all was right with the world.
Though Easter may be the higher Holy day, I am convinced that it could not bring a happier miracle on the battlefield that night. It was the birth of a child that did that, a child that came to show us how incredibly loved we really are.
Some call Christmas a world-wide conspiracy of love. Though there are several reasons for this, here is my reason for agreeing. The child born in Bethlehem came for loves sake. That child grew into someone who gave everything for loves sake. And that One has invited us to share everything that we have for loves sake.
Sometimes we do this through gifts. But the most important thing about this night and the season of Christmastide is that we ensure, as the angels themselves did, that no one feels unwanted. No one feels forgotten. No one feels unloved.
That is the work of Christmas – work that we begin again this night as we, too, follow the star to see the child who changed everything. And then we return into our real, messy world, to take part in the ways that the Christ-child is still changing everything. Until one day, the whole world will truly be able to sleep in heavenly peace.