Advent Peace
Dr. Hulitt Gloer

One of the Christmas carols I grew up singing was “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” 

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

That last line is repeated in every stanza and is taken from the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth found in Luke 2: 14 (KJV). The lyrics are a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Written in 1864 when American was embroiled in a devastating Civil War, Wordsworth went on to write (and we go on to sing),

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

These words could just as easily have been written today.  We are greeted at every turn by anything but peace. We live in a nation so polarized that the possibility of another civil war is not impossible. Violence stalks the land. Certainly, “hate is strong and mocks the song” of peace on earth.  And this is just in America. Globally, violence is epidemic. Leaders, every bit as ruthless as Herod the Great, brutalize whole populations and, in some places, ethnic cleansing seems the order of the day. Where, we ask, is the “peace on earth”? Are we naïve to keep talking about and hoping and praying for peace?

How can we bring peace in such a time as this? 

Maybe one answer to this question comes to us in a story from another time of great conflict. The First World War was the first mechanized war and the cost in human life was enormous and horrifying. This story is the subject Stanley Weintraub’s book, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. Allow me to summarize.

It was Christmas Eve, 1914. Two great armies were engaged in the horrors of trench warfare along the border of France and Belgium. Crouching in often ankle-deep mud, soldiers on both sides awaited the order to climb out the trenches, fight their way through a 50-100 yard “no-man’s land” facing rifle and machine-gun fire head on, and overrun the enemy’ trenches. Between charges, hand grenades were thrown, artillery shells were lobbed, and snipers shot at anything that moved on the other side.

Troops on both sides had received a Christmas package. The British received cigarettes, an individual plum pudding, Cadbury chocolates, and a Christmas card from King George V. Germans received tobacco and a pipe, sausages, beer, and a profile of Crown Prince Frederick Wilhelm. The German government also sent bundles of Christmas Trees.

On Christmas Eve, shooting slowed down and eventually stopped much to the chagrin of the officers. As night fell, the British were surprised by the appearance of candle-lite Christmas trees on top of the German trenches. When a German voice shouted that a “gift” was coming, the British expected a grenade or an artillery shelling and dove for cover. The “gift” turned out to be a boot filled with sausages. Thee Briish responded with a plum pudding and a greeting card from the king. Both sides then began singing and applauding each other. The sound of gunfire became choral festival. The battlefield took on the festive atmosphere of a pub or a beer hall. 

Then as suddenly as it had begun, the singing stopped. There was only silence, an eerie silence, like the whole world was holding its breath. What would the next move be, and which side would make it? Then, after what must have seemed like an eternity, the silence was broken by the sound of German soldiers singing “Stllle Nacht, Heilege Nacht.” Soon the British joined in singing, “Silent Night, Holy Night” and all up and down the line they sang and remembered together the birth of the Prince of Peace.

On Christmas Day, troops from both sides spilled out of the trenches into “no man’s land.” They introduced themselves, shook hands, even embraced one another, and shared small gifts. There were even games of soccer.

After several days, the shooting resumed but for one bright and shining moment, the world caught a glimpse of just how shallow and, ultimately, trivial and insignificant our differences are, that peace just might be possible if we would abandon the trenches that keep us apart, and come together as the human beings we are, and fix our eyes together on the Prince of Peace.

Peace happens when those who desire it, dare to bring it. And let us not forget that there is no peace without justice. The way to peace is the way of justice. It is not an easy way, but it is the only way. One more thing. We do it all in the name of the King of Righteousness who is the Prince of Peace who has promised to be with us in it all and through it all and it is in the power of the Spirit that we move forward. So, my friends, let us not be afraid to bring peace for peace is possible if we will!

-Dr. Hulitt Gloer

**photo: The Illustrated London News’s illustration of the Christmas Truce: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches” The subcaption reads “Saxons and Anglo-Saxons fraternising on the field of battle at the season of peace and goodwill: Officers and men from the German and British trenches meet and greet one another—A German officer photographing a group of foes and friends.”

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