Making Christmas Miracles
It was the summer of 1914. The Central Powers and the Allies had gone to war – the war we now know as the I World War. Both sides had believed that the war would be over by Christmas. Instead, within a few months hundreds of thousands of soldiers has been killed. By December 1914, the war had reached a bloody stalemate. Trenches had been dug on many fronts - a front that stretched from the Swiss border to the North Sea.
Attempts were being made to secure an official truce. Pope Benedict XV, who had ascended to the papacy just a month after the outbreak of war, issued an appeal to European leaders pleading that “the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” He had hoped that a truce would make room for further negotiations and lasting peace. His appeal fell on deaf ears.
As Christmas approached, winter set in on the battlefront and the battlefields were blanketed with light snow. The German emperor, William II, sent Christmas trees to the German front to bolster the morale of the troops. Soldiers began placing the trees outside their trenches and sang carols. Surprisingly, voices from the Allied trenches responded with Christmas carols of their own.
On Christmas Eve, some lower-ranking officers ordered their men not to fire unless fired upon. The soldiers on the Allies side could hear the German soldiers sing “Stille Nacht.” They responded with, “Silent Night.” Quite unexpectedly, the British soldiers saw a white flag being waved from the German side. The British responded by waving their own white flag. Lo and behold, a tenuous yet real truce was in place. As morning broke on Christmas Day, German soldiers emerged from their trenches. British soldiers soon joined them. They socialized, exchanged cigarettes, and small gifts. They played soccer and shared food and drinks. This daring maneuver, more daring than engaging in perilous battle, happened without any authorization from the higher authorities.
Later, when British soldiers wrote to the families, they wrote about the day when they mingled with enemies – the very people they would have killed just the day before. They could scarcely believe the remarkable things that had transpired. They realized that this was ‘a Christmas miracle’.
In the days following Christmas, violence returned to the Western Front, although in some areas truce persisted until New Year Day. News reached British and German generals, who quickly took steps to prevent any such further episodes. They ordered – “Such events are not to be held because they make you look at the people you kill as human beings.”
Today, even though we are not at war these days, it feels like it. Against the background of a seemingly never-ending pandemic, and persisting hate, division, inequality, and violence, Christmas can seem like a distant fairy tale. But the story of the Christmas truce tells me that the birth of Christ and everything that it promised is a possibility. It tells me that even if it was for a day and only on some fronts, Christmas stopped a World War. It tells me that God’s promise for a renewed world is not some distant utopia, rather, that the birth of Jesus and his presence in the world can transform earth into Heaven.
Christmas - A Feast for Ordinary Folks
That first Christmas, the possibilities of the birth of Christ at Christmas was announced to poor shepherds. The power of Christmas at the Christmas truce was determined by low-ranking officers. Today, the power of Christmas is being entrusted to us. We may not be powerful, famed, influential, or wealthy enough to make a difference of global magnitude. But that precisely is the point of the announcement to poor shepherds – that ordinary folk like you and I may not only have the hope of redemption, but also bring about Christmas miracles. The implication, then, is that with your simplicity and mine, your humility and mine, your poverty and mine, we can make the promise of Christmas - the promise of love, peace, and goodwill - a reality.
Christmas for All
St. Paul's letter to Titus says, “The grace of God has appeared, saving all [italics mine], and training us to reject godless ways…” (Titus 2:11). At Christmas, Jesus came to save ALL. After that original Christmas truce, the ‘powers that be’ did not want another Christmas truce to happen. They were afraid that enemies would begin to see each other as human beings. What a tragedy!
This is our fear, isn’t it, that we will begin to see people who are different than us as ‘human persons’? Black, White, and Brown – we are all human beings. Immigrants, citizens, and everybody in-between – we are all human beings. Gay, straight, transgender – we are all human beings. God belongs to ALL and ALL belong to God. But the ‘powers that be’ are afraid that if we call it truce, they will lose their power and influence.
I am asking you to disempower those that choose not to understand ‘love’ that came down on Christmas. Let us overcome the power of hate and replace it with Christ’s love for ALL. Christ came so that we may realize the dignity of every human person. Let us not be afraid to break racial, cultural, national barriers. This is my prayer for you this Christmas and the coming year, that you will embrace Christmas love, “the grace of God that appeared to all”, that you will bring about many Christmas miracles.
Mary and Joseph – Models for every Christian
In the gospel accounts of the angels' appearance to the shepherds, the angels said: “you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). When the shepherds reached Bethlehem, they found exactly what the angel had announced – Mary and Joseph with the infant lying in the manger. Now, it was truly Christmas for the shepherds. Mary and Joseph became the people through whom the Christ was able to manifest himself to the world.
Today, however, Mary and Joseph have been replaced with us. Every time someone meets us, and they encounter Christ, who is love, it is Christmas. If low ranking soldiers in a brutal battle front could make a Christmas miracle happen, so can we. We have been given the grace to make Christmas happen beyond Christmas.
I have a wish for everyone of us today – may there be many Christmas miracles throughout the coming year. May we be the people through whom Love is manifested to the world.
It is time now for us to come out of our trenches and take this Christmas miracle to the world.