JOYEUX NOËL

Activated - - NEWS - By Cur­tis Peter van Gorder

With­out an en­emy there can be no war.

I re­cently re­watched the movie Joyeux Noël (Chris­tian Car­ion, 2005), which tells the story of a well­doc­u­mented event that oc­curred on a bat­tle­field in France on Christ­mas Eve, 1914.

One en­gage­ment of the Great War (WWI) in­volved some 3,000 sol­diers from the Scot­tish, French, and Ger­man armies. On Christ­mas Eve, some­one on the Ger­man side be­gan to sing “Silent Night.” Soon a Scot’s bag­pipe re­sponded, and be­fore long all three bel­liger­ents were singing the song in uni­son from the same trenches 100 me­ters apart where a few hours ear­lier they had been killing one an­other. What a con­trast!

Coaxed into peace by the warmth of this uni­ver­sally loved song, the war­ring sides ven­tured out of their trenches and agreed on an un­of­fi­cial truce. In some places along the line, the Christ­mas truce lasted for ten days. En­e­mies ex­changed pho­tos, ad­dresses, choco­late, cham­pagne, and other small gifts. They dis­cov­ered that they had more in com­mon than they re­al­ized, in­clud­ing a cat that wan­dered from side to side and made friends with ev­ery­one, which both sides claimed as their mas­cot.

The erst­while en­e­mies com­mu­ni­cated as best they could in each other’s lan­guage. The Ger­man com­man­der, Horstmayer, said to French Lieu­tenant Aude­bert, “When we take Paris, it will all be over. Then you can in­vite me up for a drink at your house in Rue Vavin!” “Don’t feel that you have to in­vade Paris to get a drink at my house!” Aude­bert replied.

The friend­ship that was forged be­tween the war­ring sides went be­yond mere pleas­antries. The morn­ing after the Christ­mas truce ended, each side warned the other of ar­tillery shelling that they knew was com­ing from their ar­tillery units. Their new­found sense of ca­ma­raderie was so strong that some of the sol­diers were even shel­tered in the op­pos­ing side’s trenches to keep them from harm.

What brought about this in­cred­i­ble trans­for­ma­tion? It all started with a shared love of that beloved Christ­mas carol.

This in­ci­dent re­minds us that there is a cure to war, and that is to stop

de­mo­niz­ing our en­e­mies and learn to love them, as Je­sus taught us to do.

1 To be sure, that’s far eas­ier said than done. But it’s not im­pos­si­ble. We need to learn to look be­yond the ex­ter­nal dif­fer­ences of race, color, creed, and ide­olo­gies and re­al­ize that ev­ery­one shares a com­mon need—love. Ev­ery­one needs to love and be loved. If we would each make an ef­fort to get to know oth­ers with whom we seem to have lit­tle in com­mon, we just might find, as the sol­diers on that bat­tle­field did, that we have quite a bit more in com­mon than we re­al­ized.

Con­sid­er­ing that WWI lasted over three years after this in­ci­dent and claimed nearly 20 mil­lion lives, and con­sid­er­ing that many dozens of wars have been fought since then, claim­ing un­told mil­lions more, one might con­clude that the ges­ture of friend­ship and good­will of that Christ­mas Eve was in vain. The sol­diers that par­tic­i­pated were se­verely rep­ri­manded. Their su­pe­ri­ors, in an at­tempt to make sure that this in­ci­dent would not be re­peated, or­dered in­creased shelling the next Christ­mas. Nev­er­the­less, this story of peace in the midst of war lives on and con­tin­ues to break down the bar­ri­ers that make en­e­mies of po­ten­tial friends. Ul­ti­mately it’s a tes­ti­mony to the power of God’s love, which is the essence of Christ­mas.

Blessed are the peace­mak­ers, for they will be called chil­dren of God. —Matthew 5:9 NIV

Some of us … think [to] our­selves, If I had only been there! How quick I would have been to help the Baby. I would have washed His linens. How happy I would have been to go with the shep­herds to see the Lord ly­ing in

the manger! Yes, we would. We say that be­cause we know how great Christ is, but if we had been there at that time, we would have done no bet­ter than the peo­ple of Beth­le­hem. … Why don’t we do it now? We have Christ in our neigh­bor. — Martin Luther (1483–1546)

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