Opinion: finding the peace of Christmas

Faith in Cambridge

By Murray Smith
Senor Leader Bridges Church

As a child I was intrigued in the company of an elderly great-uncle who was a soldier during World War One.

He was a gentle man – quietly spoken howbeit somewhat remote. I was too young and naive to realise this stemmed from crushing, soul destroying experiences “Unkie” had witnessed on faraway killing fields of France from 1914 onwards.

He had joined other young New Zealand soldiers believing the idealistic myth of doing his bit for king and country in what was proposed would be a short-lived war. Arriving home shell-shocked years later, Unkie’s demeanour and personality was very different from the vibrant young man who had left New Zealand shores. Evidently, enduring the sights, sounds and smell of multiplied battlefield horrors, altered him permanently.

“Unkie” rarely spoke about his experiences but what he alluded to was graphic enough to get the picture. Mostly he related fragments of traumatic experiences to my Dad who viewed his uncle as a hero.

One strangely incongruous story in the context of war, related to a Christmas truce that involved thousands of British, Allied and German troops clambering out of their trenches to meet in the 100 feet or so of “no man’s land” separating the two opposing trenches.

In a series of widespread unofficial and impromptu ceasefires along the Western Front, a pause in fighting lasted through Christmas night, continuing until New Year’s Day in places.

Although not universally observed, nor sanctioned by commanders on either side, nevertheless along two-thirds of the 30-mile (48-km) front controlled by the British Expeditionary Force, guns fell silent in a rare moment of peace just a few months into a war that would eventually claim over 15 million lives.

On a frosty moonlit Christmas Eve, the allied troops heard the Germans singing carols prompting the allies to start up their own ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ to which the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn with their own words. The next morning, German soldiers emerged from their trenches, calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. Allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. In some sections, Germans held up signs reading “You no shoot, we no shoot.” Over the course of the day, troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades, whose bodies had lain for weeks on “no man’s land.”

Informal ‘kick-abouts’ with makeshift soccer balls broke out but not organised games as legend might have us believe!

How was it that commemorating the birth of a baby born 2000 years ago, carried power to create a pause in battle where men gathered with one purpose – to kill one another?

The answer lies in who this baby was. Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. Among many titles, He is known as the ‘Prince of Peace.’

He is no ordinary man. He is the Christ- the Messiah, Saviour.

Permanent peace is found in the discovery of who He is and in all He has done.

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