There has been quite a spirited battle over Christmas this year. Earlier this month I posted a remarkable Christmas story and I have received great feedback. If you missed it…enjoy. If you caught the first post it might be worth a Christmas meditation and reread. To everyone who visits this blog, reads my books, and takes the time to bless me with your comments…Merry Christmas!
On December 9th I posted a story about the decision by a Wisconsin elementary school to rewrite the lyrics of “Silent Night” to make it acceptable for the winter program. The unfortunate choice for a new title was “Cold in the Night”. Some things just shouldn’t be done. It is like the old Jim Croce song…”you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t rewrite Silent Night” (New Revised Version).
Writing that post brought to mind a legend I had heard involving the song “Silent Night” and a wartime Christmas truce. I researched the story and found that it actually happened. Here is a nice Christmas story for your Christmas season to share at Christmas gatherings this Christmas Day (was that too obvious?).
The year was 1914 and soldiers were having to spend Christmas Eve night on the battlefields of France during World War I — the Great War, as it was called. After only four months of fighting, more than a million men had already perished in the bloody conflict. The bodies of dead soldiers were scattered between the trenches. Enemy troops were dug-in so close that they could easily exchange shouts.
On December 24, 1914, in the middle of a freezing battlefield in France, a miracle happened.
The British troops watched in amazement as candle-lit Christmas trees began to appear above the German trenches. The glowing trees soon appeared along the length of the German front.
Henry Williamson, a young soldier with the London Regiment wrote in his diary: “From the German parapet, a rich baritone voice had begun to sing a song I remembered my German nurse singing to me…. The grave and tender voice rose out of the frozen mist. It was all so strange… like being in another world — to which one had come through a nightmare.”
A man named John John McCutcheon recently wrote a song about the nearly unknown incident. These lyrics are from his work called “Christmas in the Trenches”.
The cannon rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more,
As Christmas brought us respite from the war….
“They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate,” another British soldier wrote, “So we sang The First Noël and when we finished, they all began clapping. And they struck up O Tannebaum and on it went… until we started up O Come All Ye Faithful [and] the Germans immediately joined in …. this was really a most extraordinary thing — two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”
McCutcheon’s lyrics continue…
“There’s someone coming towards us!” the front-line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.
It is recorded that enemy soldiers greeted each other in the no man’s land that was a killing zone on December 23rd. The soldiers wished each other Merry Christmas and agreed not to fire their rifles on Christmas Day. The spontaneous cease-fire eventually embraced much of a 500-mile stretch of the Western Front. According to the reports of soldiers at the scene, hundreds of thousands of soldiers celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace among the bodies of their dead.
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land.
With neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand.
Other soldiers told of how the “enemies” exchanged badges and buttons from their uniforms. Others shared photos of wives and children and some even exchanged addresses and promised to write after the war ended. The German troops rolled out barrels of dark beer and the British reciprocated with offerings of plum pudding. Some soldiers produced soccer balls and a spirited match broke out as fellow soldiers shouted encouragement.
At one location along the front the men who just the day before sought to kill one another now gathered together to bury their dead. Together, with heads uncovered, they held a service to memorialize their fallen comrades. A solitary voice began to sing Silent Night, in French. He was joined by another voice — this one singing in German — the words of a Christmas song known and beloved by all.
But the miracle of peace was temporary. Slowly, under threats from their officers, the troops returned to the trenches and the recoils of rifles split the temporary “Silent Night.” Some soldiers admitted aiming so their bullets flew well above the heads of the “enemy.”
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells, we each prepared to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night:
“Whose family have I fixed within my sight?”
My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lesson well:
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame,
And on each end of the rifle, we’re the same.
That is the message the Prince of Peace brought to us on Christmas long ago. Perhaps those of us who celebrate the birth of the Saviour could learn a lesson from this Christmas miracle. Those on the other side of the cultural trenches are not unlike us. We are the same. The message delivered in Bethlehem was peace and goodwill toward men. When we fight the cultural war remember that the whole purpose of Jesus invading our space and time was to love and ultimately die for those on both sides of the battle.