December 24th, 2023
Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
The photograph was so unusual, so miraculous that it was not believed when it first hit the cover of the newspapers. With helmets tilted, a cigarette dangling from the mouth of the one in the front, the mini crowd included a German soldier standing alongside British troops from the London Rifle Brigade. It was taken Christmas Day in what they called No-Man’s Land, the space between the trenches. The day is now remembered as the Christmas Truce of 1914.
It all started the night before, when it was dark and late into Christmas Eve and members of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) first heard carols from the other side. Over some parts of the frontline, they were 300 yards apart, but here and for other parts, they were as close as 30 yards from one another. Historian Stanley Weintraub claims to have even identified the main instigator of the musical exchange as, Walter Kirchhoff, a German Officer, also a singer and a sometimes member of the Berlin Opera. His voice and the singing of Stille Nacht in both German and English is credited with inspiring the carol sing across enemy lines and this helped lead to the exchange of their humanity too.
According to recorded firsthand accounts from those who served, people like Marmaduke Walkinton, each side had been singing carols and shouting back and forth, taunting each other like you do in war, and then one of the Germans shouted “Tomorrow, You no shoot, we no shoot.”
Another recounted how then on that Christmas morning, the Germans and French soldiers came out of their trenches with champagne and cigarettes to share with the other side.
And just for a time, all of them emerged and met in No-Man’s Land, they were just human together in a land beyond war. And they exchanged gifts, took pictures, played football and buried their dead without fearing death themselves for just a minute.
It didn’t last long.
And it didn’t happen everywhere along the Western Front.
In some places the fighting continued that day, and the war raged on.
Some of the officers were unhappy that a truce happened anywhere because they were concerned t their men would be less interested fighting.
And yet, in some pockets, in some places, on that Christmas Eve in 1914, some were willing to sing out in another language to meet the other side, some of them were willing to try and find a way beyond where they were dug in and so just enough human hearts were open, that there could be peace.
Because they were willing to live in a hope beyond their trenches. Because they took a risk for a land beyond war. Because they decided it could start with them.
I have had a hard time in these months, maybe like many of you. And this Christmas, even when public celebrations of Christmas are canceled in Bethlehem, I wonder if we all need the reminder that miracles happen when we refuse to give up on what seems impossible. Knowing not everyone will come along, we can still make pockets of possibility that become peace, wherever we are even in war. So let us keep our hearts open to the unusual, to the miraculous, to what seems impossible. May it be so. Amen.