Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Eve: Silent Night

Readings for this evening:  Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
They sat in the silence of the night.  Suddenly a song drifted on the breeze.
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht

They looked up from their trenches across the no man’s land to the German side.  There, lights were flickering – small Christmas trees, complete with candles, adorned the front edge of the trenches.  Families and hometowns of the German soldier had sent care packages and small trees to their loved ones off fighting during Christmas 1914 – the first Christmas of WWI.
The British soldiers had care packages as well.  Their country and hometowns and loved ones sent generous reminders of home – small comfort to soldiers who thought this “war to end all wars” would be over long before they were faced with the reality of a cold Christmas Eve at the Western Front.

Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,

The lights from the trees illuminated the German soldiers, making them easy targets in the dark.  Amazingly the British soldiers held their fire.  Soon, a sign was spotted “No shoot tonight.  Sing tonight.”  The Germans were inviting the British to join them in their Christmas Eve celebration!
A few soldiers ventured into the no man’s land to be met by a few from the other side.  They smiled and shook hands and wished each other a “Merry Christmas” and “Fröhliche Weihnachten!”  More soldiers joined them and soon the no-man’s land became a meeting place, a killing zone became a place of peace and friendship.  Pictures of loved ones waiting at home were admired.  Carols were sung in English and German.  Gifts were exchanged – buttons and items from the care packages.  Addresses were exchanged so men could keep in touch after the war. 

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

This impromptu Christmas Eve truce broke out all over the Western Front as war-weary men from both sides embraced the promised peace of Christmas.  Over 500 miles of front line, German and English and French and Danish soldiers shared food, fellowship.  Christmas Day dawned, and the truce continued as they collected their fallen comrades from yesterday’s battle and buried them.  In some cases, men from both sides joined for Christmas Day communion services.  The festivities continued throughout the day, with songs and games – even a few soccer matches.
Back at their respective headquarters, the generals were not happy with this turn of events.  Orders were issued for the fighting to resume.  In some cases, units has to be rotated from the front and replaced with new units as the soldiers refused to take up arms against those whom had shared the bittersweet joys of Christmas far from home.

They sat in the silence of the night.  Suddenly a song drifted on the breeze.
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

They looked up at the glowing sky.  The light grew and they could see wings and bodies – angels, lots of angels – coming toward them.  They shrank back from the light.  From the light and angelic voice said, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."

The shepherds looked around in wonder as the angels burst into song.  And then, as suddenly as they came, the angels were gone.
As one they turned to Bethlehem, hurrying to find this child whose birth caused the angels to sings.  And they found him, just as the angels said, in a manger, his mother watching as he slept.

Peace on earth!  The Messiah who will bring God’s kingdom to humankind is here!  They couldn’t wait to tell their families, their neighbors.
That evening Roman generals sat in the comfort of their headquarters issuing orders for this war and that battle to preserve and extend the Pax Romana. They didn’t hear the angels’ song or stand with the shepherds at the manger, so they didn’t know that a child was born who would bring true peace to the world.

There’s a song drifting in the air tonight.

We’ve heard a month of carols in the stores.  We’ve heard greetings of Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays during this time billed as the “happiest season of all.”  It’s Christmas time.
At Christmas time the whole world acknowledges things aren’t the way they should be.  The whole world longs for peace, yearns for love, aches for hope.  At Christmas time, we get a glimpse of peace, a glimmer of the world the way it should be.  We hear stories of people helping other, stories of generosity.  Stories of Christmas peace like the 1914 Truce. 

But after Christmas, the generals of the powers of the world entice us to turn again to war, and hate and hopelessness.  The Christmas spirit fades.  People go back to life as usual.

What about us, the keepers and tellers of the Story?   Tonight we’ll sing Silent Night and Joy to the World.  Well share the bread and the wine and marvel again the God loved us so much that God became one of us.
Do we leave here carrying Christmas with us, living it every day?  Or do we allow the generals of the powers of this world to order us back into the fight?

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