Christmas Eve Sermon 2006

Posted by — December 24, 2006

In December 1914, World War I was only four months old, but already it had become a dark and bloody mess.  On France’s Western Front, soldiers of Kaiser Wilhelm II and George V faced off with one another from rows of frozen trenches. The cold winter rains had chilled them to the bone, and there was no relief from the endless mud and constant sniper fire.  On Christmas Eve 1914, Scottish troops looked out across No Man’s Land and noticed lights in the German trenches.  In the evening twilight, they made out the silhouettes of Christmas trees.

Laughter drifted across the darkening sky.

The lights of those Christmas Trees burned brighter, and pretty soon the Scottish troops heard a rich baritone voice begin to sing: “Stile Nacht, Helige Naucht.” Silent Night, Holy Night. One Scotsman who saw and heard these things said:  “It was strange, like being in another world, to which we had come through a nightmare, a world finer than the one left behind.”

On Christmas Day, The Royal Flying Corp got into the Christmas spirit.  A plane was sent up over the German lines and dropped a padded case of brandy-soaked plum pudding behind the German trenches.  The German troops seemed to appreciate this, so they sent up their own plane with a careful airdrop of a bottle of rum.  The Allied soldiers really appreciated that.

It was not long after this, we are told, that all the shooting stopped, and soldiers on both sides gathered to celebrate Christmas, singing Silent Night.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 spread up and down the Western Front, and for several days the fighting and killing stopped.  Soldiers traded tobacco and photographs, a football game even broke out between the Germans and the Allies.  In fact, so much “good will” occurred across the lines that generals on both sides finally issued orders forbidding what was going on, after all, they claimed, “it discouraged initiative and destroyed morale in the ranks.”

Editor’s Note–My husband and I were privileged to attend this concert
and hear John share this song.

…tonight, the King of kings is born in a stable with a few lowly shepherds as the guests of honor. The gift of this day is God’s love for the world and the package is a small baby cradled in a young girl’s arms. We are like shepherds in the dark night, scanning the horizon for any signs of hope, for the promise that this world is not all there is, that the darkness will give way to a light that shall not be overcome.

In her novel Silas Marner, George Elliot tells the story of a reclusive and hardened man who blocks out the world around him. His primary passion is accumulating more and more gold, that he then hides under his bed. One day he comes home to find that his gold is gone, some thief has stolen the treasure of his life, and he is distraught over his loss.

Every day after that, he returns to his home, hoping beyond hope that the gold had reappeared. Then one day he comes home and sees a glint of light on the floor, his heart leapt for joy, his gold had been returned, but when he stretched out his hand he found, instead of hard coin, soft curls on his floor – a sleeping child.

Elliot narrates the scene like this: He had a dreamy feeling that this child was somehow a message come to him from a far off life. It stirred old quiverings of tenderness – old impressions of awe of some power presiding over his life . . . Silas Marner took the little girl in his lap, “trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. He could only have said that the child had come instead of the gold –that the gold had turned into the child.”

The child that comes this night is truth and grace. He comes to a world overcome with darkness to be the light that that will forever shine. He comes to a world overrun by senseless noise to sing the melody of peace.

He comes to your life and my life as a priceless gift, the only gift that really matters, to turn the world upside down, to take away the hard edges and make us tender.

And away up the hill, from the direction of town, came the sound of a newborn baby’s cry. This, my friends, is the gift we have been given.