Updated: Sep 30, 2022
December 24, 1914, was the day that World War I fighting stopped, not because it was the end of the war. No. It stopped because it was Christmas Eve.
Stanley Weintraub, author of Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, wrote this account.
The First Advent song, Silent Night, has long been a cherished part of our shared culture in the world. In 2011, it was granted UNESCO cultural heritage status.
But the power of the hymn was never so clear as on Christmas Eve 1914, when fighting on the battlefields of World War I stopped, and a lone soldier's exquisite voice made history.
It was impromptu; no one planned it. The Christmas truce happened because the British and the Germans shared a culture.
The shooting had stopped and in the silence, a German officer, Walter Kirchhoff, a tenor with the Berlin Opera, came forward and sang Silent Night in German, and then in English. In the clear, cold night of Christmas Eve, his voice carried very far.
The British knew the song and sang back. Gradually the troops crawled forward into No Man's Land, that middle ground between the trenches.
The song had a deep impact on many of the soldiers. "Soldiers … wrote home the day after to their families, to their wives, and to their parents, saying, 'You won't believe this. It was like a waking dream.'"
"They recognized that on both ends of the rifle, they were the same."
“They were the same.” They were people with the need to experience the hope brought by the Prince of Peace, Jesus. That was their shared culture.
Surely, in our homes, we are the same. We share a culture as a result of the country of our birth and our family’s traditional approach to life.
But, no matter who we are, God calls us to share in a culture of love expressed in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and forgiveness.
Like the soldiers in World War 1, can we lay down our weapons? Not guns. Instead, unkind, thoughtless, judgmental, cruel words and actions? Can we smile instead of frown? Reach out to others instead of staying silent? Can we replace our criticism with encouragement? Our fear with faith? Our opinions with God’s Truth?
Whether we celebrate Christmas traditions or not, the message we hear, over and over at this time of year, is an invitation to love another.
The Bible says that everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
No one has seen God at any time, but if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. His perfect love casts out fear.
We know we abide in Him, and He in us, because He’s given us His Spirit.
Over 2,000 years ago, God sent His Son that we might have eternal life through Him. Let’s receive His gift of perfect love. It will make all the difference. Amen.