Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Peace on Earth

In December 1914, Pope Benedict XV called for a truce amid the bloodshed of the Great War, to offer some respite and "cease the clang of arms while Christendom celebrates the Feast of the World's Redemption."  The governments of Europe refused.

But a curious thing happened: On Christmas day, hundreds of thousands of soldiers laid down their arms, climbed out of their trenches, and celebrated together.  Songs were sung, small gifts exchanged.  The recent dead were buried.  Joint services were held to mark the holiday.  Modern British Christmas traditions - such as Christmas trees and many carols - are German in origin, so the festivities naturally overcame linguistic barriers.  In some sectors of the Western Front the truce lasted an entire week.

It is difficult to pin down what sparked this spontaneous celebration.  Pope Benedict's appeal likely had little direct effect.   The unofficial truce may simply have been the response of exhausted soldiers to the horrors of war.  But many, perhaps most, of these men were Christians, of one denomination or another.  It is striking that, in the midst of one of humanity's most terrible conflicts, in the midst of a conflict which nearly tore European civilization apart, in the midst of a conflict which no one seemed able to halt, grown men, surrounded by the carnage of death, paused to celebrate the birth of a little baby, the Prince of Peace.

Though "the nations protest and the peoples conspire in vain, [though] kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the Lord and against His anointed one" (Psalm 2:1-2), may God, in His mercy, fill our hearts and our world with His peace this Christmas.

This image of soldiers from the 134th Saxon Regiment and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment together on St. Stephen's Day (26 December) 1914 comes from the Imperial War Museum's collection, via Wikipedia.  If you have never visited the IWM, you should.

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