This is a copy of my article for the DECEMBER 2014 edition of the Billericay ‘Around Town Magazine’
The truce wasn’t organised. Nobody sat down and negotiated it. It was a spontaneous act, replicated in dozens of places all along the front line. In each of them, the truce depended on ordinary soldiers taking a chance and trusting the enemy. They had to believe that when someone said they wouldn’t shoot, they would be true to their word. They had to believe that the men who had been trying to kill them yesterday would not try to kill them today.
And then, on the morning of 25th December 1914, they had to do something incredibly bold, something against all their instincts, something that broke all the rules of trench warfare. They had to stand up, and put their heads above the parapet. If there was going to be peace, someone was going to have to put their life on the line. Somebody had to make the first move.
Sometimes it was a German soldier, sometimes an Englishman. We know some of their names: John Adams, Josef Sewald, Frank Collins, Rudolf Zehmisch. They were ordinary men: a postman, a chaplain, a chef. They each signalled their intentions as best they could by raising their hands or waving a white handkerchief. They brought gifts, a peace offering of cigarettes, beer, or jam; whatever luxuries were to hand. They exchanged photographs of wives and families and, as best they could, read each other’s letters. Many of them expected the war to be well and truly over by New Years day!
These men were all different, but they had a few things in common. They all believed in the possibility of peace. For each of them, their hope for peace was stronger than their fear of death. Jesus had a special blessing for such people in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ when he said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
When God entered our world as a helpless baby that first Christmas, he was called ‘The Prince of Peace’ and he was taking that first step towards us, into the no-man’s land of our broken world, risking everything on the possibility of peace. It was to cost Jesus his life, but in his death and resurrection, the truce was sealed. Not just a temporary respite for a day, but a new start, an eternal peace. “His government and its peace will never end,” Isaiah prophesied. “He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.”
As the news headlines remind us on a daily basis, that’s a work in progress. Ours is not a peaceful, quiet world. Not yet. And that’s why the Bible calls each of us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and be peacemakers ourselves. To be those willing to step out, in hope and faith. It may cost us. Sometimes the offer of peace will be rejected. But we can be strong in the confidence that the truce is already won, because Jesus has gone ahead of us. The angels know this, it’s why they sang “Peace on earth and goodwill to all men.”
May I encourage each of you to ‘put your head above the parapet’ this Christmas and join with us here at Emmanuel (or one of the other churches in Billericay) to celebrate the birth of Prince of Peace?
May God’s richest blessing be upon you and your family this Christmas season.