December 24, 1914
Along the front lines of World War One, troops from England, France and Belgium lined up in trenches, opposite German and Austrian soldiers. There they killed each other with a sophistication and a ferocity never before seen.
One of the few things the opposing sides had in common, aside from the wretched living conditions, was their love of the approaching Christmas holiday. But, in 1914, the word from high command, on both sides, was no Christmas truce. The fighting was not to be stopped for any reason. But sometimes an idea becomes so powerful that it cannot be denied.
On Christmas Eve, the rain, which had fallen incessantly, suddenly stopped. The sky cleared, the stars shone brilliantly, and the ground, now frozen, became easier to walk on. As the allied troops looked out across the surreal Hell of No Man's Land, what they saw astonished them. All along the German lines, strange objects began appearing atop the parapets. Peculiar, because at the front, to be conspicuous was to invite death. The objects, it turned out, were tannenbaums -- German Christmas trees.
After the trees, came the hastily fashioned signs: "You no fight, we no fight" and "Happy Christmas English!" And then came the song -- the melody familiar, if not the words -- Stille Nacht.
As Christmas morning dawned, burial crews from both sides worked together to clear the battlefield -- upon which they played a game of soccer later that day. They ate, they sang and they shared with one another what little they had. And they prayed that the next Christmas would find them all in happier circumstances.
It was not perfect and it did not last. The war dragged on for four more years, and cost a frightful number of lives. But, for a brief, beautiful moment, peace was more profound and more preferred than war.
A generation later, on Christmas Eve 1944, a group of U.S. soldiers were involved in a desperate battle to occupy a string of islands in the Pacific Theater. They faced an enemy which seemed invisible. For several nights, leading up to Christmas, Japanese soldiers, silent in rubber soled shoes, and covered by the darkness, descended on their position and rained fire down upon the Americans.
As midnight approached on December 24, some of the soldiers hung stockings on the ends of their bayonets -- a grim reminder of all that they were missing at home. As the hour struck, and they wondered which of them would greet the morning, suddenly a voice broke the silence. A beautiful tenor began to sing "It came upon a midnight clear." This song was followed by another and then another. More soldiers joined the choir, and voice by voice they filled the stifling atmosphere with songs of love and joy.
No shots were fired that night. No one died. Love and hatred cannot coexist. Where there is peace, there cannot be war.
Our world today is embroiled in a struggle that has no end. To rid the world of terror, is a task of eternal vigilance. Nobody desires war, but sometimes simply wanting peace is not enough. Liberty and security are purchased by the lives of the willing and the brave. The world into which the Savior was born was not a world of peace. Upon the announcement of the birth, conflict did not cease. The lion did not lie down with the lamb. The peace and goodwill declared by the angel were not given to the world collectively, but individually. Peace comes through an understanding of our place before God, and goodwill as a result of the Savior's unselfish sacrifice on our behalf.
Of all the year, the Christmas season is the time to remember that Goodwill toward men is the best way to bring about Peace on Earth.