Monthly Archives: December 2011

Christmas Miracle

World War I (1914-1918) was the first war to see the full fury of industrialism unleashed on a large scale. Over eight and a half million combatants died and twenty-one million were wounded. By Christmas 1914 hope for a speedy resolution to hostilities had faded and the grim reality of trench warfare had set in. Bogged down in ankle-deep mud, troops on both sides were cold, war weary, and shell shocked. Despite the dehumanizing conditions of combat, a miracle took place on the Western Front during that first Christmas of that Great War. Stanley Weintraub describes what happened in his book Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce:

The Germans set trees on trench parapets and lit the candles. Then, they began singing carols, and though their language was unfamiliar to their enemies, the tunes were not. After a few trees were shot at, the British became more curious than belligerent and crawled forward to watch and listen. After a while, they began to sing.

By Christmas morning, the “no man’s land” between the trenches was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing and (more solemnly) burying their dead between the lines. Soon they were even playing soccer, mostly with improvised balls.

Although the truce lasted only a few days (commanders on both sides threatened courts-martial for those who refused to resume fighting), it remains a powerful testimony to the potential for peace, inspired by the Prince of Peace. Near the end of his book, Weintraub reflects on the meaning of those strange and wonderful events nearly a century ago:

A celebration of the human spirit, the Christmas Truce remains a moving manifestation of the absurdities of war. A very minor Scottish poet of Great War vintage, Frederick Niven, may have got it right in his “A Carol from Flanders,” which closed,

O ye who read this truthful rime

     From Flanders, kneel and say:

God speed the time when every day

     Shall be as Christmas Day.

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The Wonder of It All

A few nights ago my twelve-year-old son Mark went to a planetarium. His eyes glowed as he watched the stars dance across the simulated night sky. When he got home I asked him whether he thought the show was any good. “It wasn’t good,” he said, pausing for a moment. “It was spectacular!” His response reminded me how important it is to have a sense of childlike wonder at the world around us. Only we don’t have to visit a planetarium for that.

Every cloudless night God puts on an amazing show outdoors while we sit comfortably indoors, watching TV. It doesn’t have to be that way. King David took time to look up and it filled him with awe. He even sang about it: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Ps. 8:3-4). But the psalmist-king was not the only one to experience a sense of wonder. I just finished reading Brennan Manning’s book The Ragamuffin Gospel. In it he writes,

Our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter—in a deer leaping across a meadow, in the flight of an eagle, in fire and water, in a rainbow after a summer storm, in a gentle doe streaking through a forest, in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a child licking a chocolate ice cream cone, in a woman with windblown hair. God intended for us to discover His loving presence in the world around us.

 As we rush through our busy lives checking off things we have to do, let’s not forget to stop, look, and listen to the wonders around us.

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