Imagine a world where death literally surrounds you. Your only refuge is a hole you helped dig, most likely while you were laying completely flat on the ground. Exposure and hypothermia in the winter weather could take one of your limbs. Even the water you drink could likely kill you. The person next to you is unlikely to outlast the week; you probably won’t last much longer.
Can you imagine the emotions that would run through you? Fear over what is to come, disgust over what you’ve seen, despair over the loss of so many friends in such little a time. Close enough to hear their singing is another group of men who are your enemies.
I can only imagine the hatred that had to be projected on those other men. World War I was an experience so horrific that it resonates to this day. I fail to find words strong enough to describe it, because I’ve not seen a thing so terrible in my lifetime.
But God likes to shine rays of hope in the darkest times.
In the winter of 1914, while the British and Germans fought in a stalemate and tried to shoot each other whenever they were given the chance, Christmas Eve arrived. The British heard something odd: singing from the German lines.
It took a little while, but the eventually recognized the melody as “Silent Night.” The British joined their voices with their enemies in a moment of praise to the birth of Jesus. Suddenly the friend/foe thoughts dissipated, and there were human beings across the barbed wire.
Christmas Day saw conversation between the two groups. Gifts were exchanged, songs sung, games played. I even came across mention of free haircuts given to the Germans by a British barber who had been pressed into service. In the following days, both sides were so reluctant to rejoin the fighting that higher commands had to arrange transfers.
Take a moment and think on that for a few minutes: Men who had been trying to kill each other for days, weeks, and months decided to put down their weapons for one day and see the humanity in another person. It changed them so much they troubled to pick those weapons back up again.
Shouldn’t we be the same way? Shouldn’t we be just as ready to see the sacredness of another person?
I grew up in a church culture where Christmas was the Christian holiday where we got to be happy all of the time. We lit candles in the church and ate a lot of food. Easter was allowed to have some sadness, as long as it was just on Good Friday. Then it was back to being happy. Of course since the congregation tripled on Easter Sunday, the sermon was always about forgiveness and trying to get those visitors to come back next week.
But I think Christmas is about forgiveness just as much as Easter is.
The two are not unrelated holidays marking separate events in the life of Christ. They combine to bookend the most significant life in history—a life that was pure enough to save us, who modeled perfect forgiveness and love, and who chose a gruesome death on a cross to deliver us from our sin.
Without Christ’s birth, there is death. Without Christmas, there is no Easter. Without either, we have yet to receive deliverance.
It would be beautiful if that shone through in our lives, if forgiveness flowed through the world during Christmas like a flood that brought healing and redemption.
If one broken relationship were fixed, wouldn’t that be beautiful? If men whose sole mission was to kill each other can do it, what’s holding us back?