The Nativity and the Christmas Truce
Christmas | Luke 2:1-20
What Is and Isn’t There
Have you ever noticed that a word is missing from the account of Jesus’s birth? There is no word telling exactly where Jesus is born. The word stable doesn’t appear, though most of us put him there in our minds. Our nativity scenes place them in a stable. And it also doesn’t have a word about any animals, though we like to place them around the scene. We like to believe there were animals around.
We do all of this because of the one word that is there: manger. A manger is a feeding trough. Animals would eat from it, like a long wooden box without a top.
The story is very free of location details, in fact. It says simply
While they were there [Bethlehem], the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
This year, I’d like to entertain the idea that the holy family had no place to go in the most literal sense. They couldn’t stay in the inn. There was no place for them. They were ostensibly invisible and lying on the street, the corner of a building for shelter.
There, under the light of the moon and the stars, Jesus was born.
And I imagine Joseph and Mary looking at the sky and praising GOD for this miracle. On a night like this one.
The Great Christmas Truce
Perhaps soldiers saw a similar sight from the trenches of the Western Front. The moon and stars lighting the sky, what the gunsmoke doesn’t obscure. Staring at this sky and dreaming of where they should be tonight.
Was that what the young man had in mind when he sent a football (what we call a soccer ball) over the breach and into no man’s land?
These young men had learned the hard way to keep their heads down: keeping them below the top of the trench, that even looking across the way toward your enemy was a dangerous act.
Here they emerge from their trenches facing the specter of death to find something different: camaraderie. British and German young men greeting in that dangerous space between the sides of the front, the space in which many of their friends had died at the hands of their enemies. Here, those same enemies are sharing with each other, hot drinks and even gifts. Some even play football.
One hundred years ago tonight, the Christmas Truce suspended The Great War, the ugliest and most brutal war the world had ever known. A war that ushered in the modern age of warfare and destroyed millions of lives. One of the gravest stains on human history.
The Truce then rivals the greatest of Christmas miracles in history. Enemies dropping their weapons and celebrating with one another as friends. The closest many of our predecessors had seen to the lion lying down with the lamb or the late preacher/saint who told us of a dream he had:
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
The truce ended in the early hours of the 26th, Boxing Day. Or, perhaps we are more apt to call it Massive Returns Day or The Gift Cards Are Burning Holes In Our Pockets Day. The beauty of the truce would come to end. Of course it would. That’s what we tell ourselves, anyway. Of course, after the beauty of tonight, we’ll have to go back.
But what if we don’t?
The power in the Christmas Truce a century ago, again, this very night, was that these were kids, told to hate the people on the other side of something called no man’s land. They had scorched the land and destroyed the trees and plants and driven away the wildlife with the gun and cannon fire, and then the machine gun fire.
And these kids, like virtually all of the people in England, France, and Germany just a Christmas earlier, could not imagine this situation, this arrangement. It was incomprehensible. And to be brutally blunt, they didn’t even know why they were fighting each other. Just that they had to.
Until they stopped.
Then they were ordered to fight again. Ordered to go back to the new normal. Told they had to hate the people in the other trench. Urged by mothers in newspapers and letters to continue fighting: that they were so willing to sacrifice their firstborn sons for this cause. Not for GOD, but for war.
These boys knew what their mothers did not: that the cause didn’t even exist. They were among the only sane people in the world recognizing there was no cause but geo-politics. These brave soldiers tried to end the war. Not just for a night, but forever.
One hundred years ago, these boys proved they didn’t have to fight and hate. They proved it could be stopped quite easily and joyously. They proved that the normal could be disrupted and evil expectations spoiled.
Perhaps we can prove that we don’t have to go back to normal. That we can be changed. Perhaps this could be another Christmas miracle. As we praise GOD under these stars this night.