christmas in the trenches

How many times this season have I heard songs proclaiming peace and joy? We hear faint reminders of these mantras as we play our role as good consumers even in the midst of a struggling economy. We see these words painted in windows, written on Christmas cards, and many of our gifts are wrapped in paper that boast of these grand concepts. But do we really wrestle with what these letter forms placed together as words have to do with our human existence? I think in a way they highlight some of the many absurdities of human life.

This morning I was reading an article entitled Christmas in the Trenches. It tells a story set on Christmas Eve, 1914, on the World War I battlefield in Flanders. “As the German, British, and French troops facing each other were settling in for the night, a young German soldier began to sing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” Others joined in. When they had finished, the British and French responded with other Christmas carols. Eventually, the men from both sides left their trenches and met in the middle. They shook hands, exchanged gifts, and shared pictures of their families. Informal soccer games began in what had been “no-man’s-land.” And a joint service was held to bury the dead of both sides. The generals, of course, were not pleased with these events. Men who have come to know each other’s names and seen each other’s families are much less likely to want to kill each other. War seems to require a nameless, faceless enemy. So, following that magical night the men on both sides spent a few days simply firing aimlessly into the sky. Then the war was back in earnest and continued for three more bloody years. Yet the story of that Christmas Eve lingered – a night when the angels really did sing of peace on earth.”

In the midst of death and destruction, this beautiful moment of peace interrupts. Enemies were given human status. Lives are shared. And yet, that is not enough. Days later, men who had enjoyed the company of one another chose to return to death and destruction. Absurdity.

The theme of war found in this story also reminds me of those men and women who are not with their families during this season because they are elsewhere involved in the wars of America. What are their experiences of peace and joy? What about those we Americans declare enemies? Can we share peace and joy with them?

I hope that as we tear these words from the blessings we are given this season and hear them declared through many mediums that perhaps they would not be mere sentiments. Let us truly exercise peace and joy as a part of our human experience.

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