During 2014, there have been a series of events to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.
One of the most moving and powerful memorials was the Blood Swept Lands and Sea of Red installation at the Tower of London, where 888,246 poppies filled the moat, representing every single British and Colonial military fatality during the war.
On the 12th December Prince William unveiled another memorial to the First World War, this time a permanent one at the National Memorial Arboretum, to commemorate one of the most extraordinary events of the First World War, an event which took place on Christmas Eve 1914. The war had been raging for 5 months, and had already claimed 1 million lives, but on Christmas Eve 1914 something extraordinary happened.
Soldiers wrote letters home, describing what happening during that Christmas truce.
On the 31st December 1914, the Evening Mail in Newcastle printed this letter.
'On Christmas Day one of the Germans came out of the trenches and held his hands up. Our fellows immediately got out of theirs, and we met in the middle, and for the rest of the day we fraternised, exchanging food, cigarettes and souvenirs. The Germans gave us some of their sausages, and we gave them some of our stuff. The Scotsmen started the bagpipes and we had a rate old jollification, which included football in which the Germans took part. The Germans expressed themselves as being tired of the war and wished it was over. They greatly admired our equipment and wanted to exchange jack knives and other articles. Next day we got an order that all communication and friendly intercourse with the enemy must cease but we did not fire all that day, and the Germans did not fire at us.’
Where the truce took place, it lasted on average two or three days, with some parts of the front seeing the truce extended to New Year’s Day. There is even some evidence to suggest that a truce of sorts existed until March.
Not everyone experienced the truce. It wasn’t universal, fighting continued along parts of the Western Front, but for those who did witness it, it must have been an extraordinary and unforgettable experience. The Christmas truce was a breakthrough of peace. For a short while there was a glimmer of hope that the fighting could end.
The birth of Jesus is also a story about how peace managed to breakthrough into the world.
Jesus was of course no ordinary baby, he is Immanuel, God with Us. The prophet Isaiah foretelling of the birth of Jesus said that “he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is. 9:6). And when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds they sang “peace on earth.” (Lk 2:14)
The message of Christmas is that true peace can only be found in Jesus, the Prince of Peace. The peace that Jesus brings is not just for a moment, not even for a day, it is for a lifetime.
The baby born on that silent night, in Bethlehem so long ago, went on to model a life of love and forgiveness, through his actions and his teachings, and through his death and resurrection he reconciled us to God.
Through Jesus we can experience:
- Peace with God (spiritual) ‘"Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" ’ (Romans 5:1)
- The peace of God (emotional) "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).
- Peace with each other (relational) "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9 KJV).
This peace Jesus offers us comes with the knowledge and understanding that
- we’re loved unconditionally
- we’re forgiven
- that Jesus is with us, no matter what difficulties or challenges we may face in life
- that our eternal future is secure, when we give our lives to Jesus
The peace brought by the 1914 Christmas truce did not last, but the peace that God sent to us in Jesus endures.
The same Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, and who walked on earth two thousand years ago wants to walk with us into every situation, bringing peace, love and hope for the future.
All we need to do to receive this peace, is to open our lives to Jesus, to say to Jesus, “I want you to be Lord of my life”. In the Bible it says, "It makes no difference who you are or where you're from - if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open" (Acts 10:35 MSG)
‘Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation.’ (2 Thess 3:16) Amen.