Christmas Truce

A 2005 movie called Joyeux Noël portrays maybe the most memorable Christmas scene of the 20th-century. World War I had started in 1914, involving European powers in the largest conflict up to that time. Technological inventions such as the machine gun made the war bloody and protracted, as armies could no longer engage in Napoleon-style creative strategies but had to battle from trenches, and sometimes thousands of lives would get lost to advance the frontline a 100 yards.

When Christmas Eve arrives, soldiers overhear Christmas carols being sung in the enemies’ trenches, and soon the spirit of Christmas triumphs over the spirit of war. Scottish, German and French soldiers call a temporary truce for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. They come to look at each other, and see foreign faces differently than the faces seen far away from behind a rifle. They exchange chocolate, champagne, show one another pictures of loved ones, and on Christmas day they bury corpses and play soccer. For some hours, the celebration of Christmas unites what was seemingly irreconcilable, and they remember life at its best.

Christmas has a beautiful, mysterious power. Enchanting songs and commonly held traditions explain some of its magnetism, but they are not sufficient. To elucidate the clout of goodness that brings together soldiers filled with rage, anger, guilt and fear, only the significance of Christmas can do. Only by remembering the story of Christmas, the narrative of God entering our human war-filled history to offer salvation, can we understand the irresistible spirit of Christmas. It is a message of peace, as Luke narrates that the choir of angels sang from up above in the first Christmas Eve:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”[1]

With Jesus’ arrival, God came to us and offered a truce. He declares peace and favour for our divided, fragmented, self-hating hearts. He breathes love into old resentments and tense family meals. He offers forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with himself. This week we need not war with ourselves, with one another, or with God. We can come to eat chocolate, see old fond photographs, and play soccer, for with God’s arrival, with his breeze of peace to interrupt our frenzy, with the climax of history around a serene manger, a season of peace has arrived, and we can enjoy life at its best.

René Breuel


[1] Luke 2:14

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