(You may watch video of this sermon here.)
On Christmas Eve 1914 the guns fell silent. All along the western front of what came to be known as the First World War, the human beings stuck in the trenches on both sides, all decided just to stop the bitter labor of war, take a rest from being enemies and just celebrate together the birth of Christ.
Now, this meant they disobeyed orders. This was a mass act of disobedience. The upper brass on both sides were furious that their soldiers were all too eager to put down their guns and fraternize with the enemy. But, those soldiers didn’t care if they got in trouble for it. It was Christmas, for Christ’s sake.
British, French, German alike all left the trenches and met in the no-man’s-land between them. They sang Christmas carols together – different languages but the same tunes. They gave each other gifts. Soccer games broke out. They drank and smoked together. They freed their prisoners, and buried their dead.
They allowed the peace of Christ to interrupt their war-making and to bless their moments peacemaking.
In this way, they remembered Jesus born of Mary, they honored what it means that Christ was born in our midst.
Perhaps they allowed themselves to wonder at the mystery of a God, the very Creator of the cosmos, who joins us in our condition. Perhaps they allowed themselves to wonder at the possibility that things don’t have to be so hard, as hard as we make them for each other. Perhaps they allowed themselves to wonder at the mercy of a God who always freely offers us freedom from the trenches we tend to get ourselves stuck in, the trenches we tend to force each other into. – God makes wars cease to the ends of the earth, if only we are still and know … and it’s us who start them back up again.
Perhaps they allowed themselves to wonder at the gift that Christmas always comes. Yes, Christmas always comes.
Back in March of this Year, the Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres called for a global cease-fire to allow war-ravaged nations to have the chance to beat this pandemic. 170 nations signed onto the resolution calling for:
“global unity and solidarity in confronting [the] scourge [of the Covid-19 pandemic].”
“We are mindful,” the resolution declares, “that a peaceful condition is indispensable to facilitate humanitarian access in fragile and conflict-affected situations … Efforts to relieve human suffering and conflict resolution should go hand-in-hand in leading action to address the pandemic”.
170 nations signed. Even Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia signed. The United States of America refused. The bitter irony is that we are faring far worse with Covid-19 than the nations getting pounded by the bombs our companies sell. But it’s looking like poor companies will come last in receiving the vaccines.
In so many ways, this pandemic has exposed our collective sins of selfishness and vicious inequality. At the same time, it has also shown us humanity at our best: amazing acts of collaboration, cooperation; amazing acts of courage in caring for the neighbor and the stranger. We have seen and felt how inter-connected and inter-related we all are. All of this, the good and the bad, can show us how urgently we need to center our lives truly around the living God, who comes to us in our condition, the living God who calls us out of our entrenched battles and into our shared humanity as children of the same Creator.
So, let’s allow ourselves to wonder at the gift that Christmas always comes. Yes, Christmas always comes: whether we’re at war or at peace, whether we’re together or alone, whether we’re in sickness or in health … Whether we even like it or not, Christmas always comes.
Christ is always born anew, and born to interrupt us, to interrupt our wars with the offer of God’s peace, to intrude on our solitude with the challenge of sacred solidarity, to startle us out of complacency with the call to communion, to call us out of our trenches, out of our ruts, and into a celebration together of what is possible when we open ourselves to the wonders of the Eternal Spirit in which we all live and move and have our being, as Jesus revealed.
Merry Christmas! Thanks be to God.