It happened exactly one hundred years ago today. Actually, it started the night before, on Christmas Eve 1914, on the dreaded Western Front of World War I. According to the reports, one part of the German line managed to slip a chocolate cake to their British counterparts who were knee deep in mud in the water soaked trenches.
The cake included a note. The Germans asked for a cease fire so they could celebrate Christmas and the birthday of one of their captains. The British agreed and sent back a gift of tobacco.
After the appointed hour, heads began to pop up from the German line singing Christmas hymns, followed by applause from their British counterparts. The Germans then asked the British to join in. One British soldier shouted, “We’d rather die than sing in German!” To which a German soldier replied, “It would kill us if you did.”
By Christmas morning, soldiers began to bravely venture out into no man’s land, greeting each other with a smile and exchanging gifts. Impromptu games of soccer broke out. Grown men in combat boots, covered in mud, ran around giddily kicking a soccer ball. By 8:30 that night, however, the soldiers were back in their trenches. Two shots were fired in the air and the war resumed.
Peace on earth; good will to men.
For many, if not most people in our world today, that’s what Christmas is all about. That is the Christmas spirit. Christmas is a time to put away our differences, at least for a day. Christmas is a time to make amends with family. Christmas is a time for soldiers to temporarily lay down their weapons and enjoy a day of peace.
That sounds good, doesn’t it? The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a sweet and wonderful Christmas story. But in the end, it was just a blip in a brutal war that killed well over nine million people. The same soldiers who played soccer and exchanged gifts on Christmas Day 1914, ended up shooting at each other the next day. They killed each other. They gruesomely gutted each other with their bayonets.
To have peace and harmony on Christmas Day and yet seek to kill each other the day before and the day after borders on insanity. To pretend to get along with your family on Christmas because it’s Christmas after all – and then hate each other the rest of the year is sheer lunacy. To be nice to people on Christmas in order to make up for a year of selfishness is just plain insincere.
But that’s the Christmas spirit, isn’t it? Peace on earth. Good will to men.
Yes and no.
The angels spoke those words to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV).
The problem is the angels weren’t talking about peace between men. They weren’t talking about a truce in a war or the healing of a broken family. They weren’t talking about showing good will to the less fortunate and downtrodden. Those are all good things and God does want us to live in peace and show good will to everyone, but that’s not what the angels were talking about.
They weren’t talking about our relationship with other people. They were talking about our relationship with God.
The peace the angels were proclaiming is peace with God – not just a temporary truce on Christmas Day – but a lasting peace. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to die on Calvary to wash away all the dumb and hurtful things you do. Jesus was born to make you at peace with God.
That’s why the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest!” That’s why we sing those words every Christmas. We have peace with God here on earth and forever in heaven. Our sins are forgiven. God has and will always show good will to us.
That’s the good news of great joy which is for all people. That’s what Christmas is all about. Even when wars rage all around us, even when our families can’t get along at Christmas, we have a true and lasting peace. That’s what Christmas is all about: Peace on earth; good will to men.