Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Small Wonder(s)--The miracle truce

Okay, it’s time to get serious about this. Before you talk about miracles and magic, let's have a good cold look at what happened in No Man's Land between British and German troops, December, 1914. Before you grab the Kleenex or get all teary and sentimental, you should remember that perfectly good reasons explain why peace broke out amidst war, why, for one unforgettable Christmas, the lion lay down with the lamb (put uniforms where you’d like).

What I’m saying is, the magic of that moment is perfectly explainable.

First, it had happened before. In the public mind, the great Christmas truce of 1914 stands alone. Not so. This was not the first, so stifle yourself.

Second, war giddiness was still in the air. The Great War had just begun. A hundred thousand Brits thought marching off to France was a fine and proper test of manhood. Death had not held the throne for four long years, as it eventually would. That Christmas wasn't yet hell. So why not eat, drink, and be merry?--'twas Yuletide, so "Deck the halls."

What's more, most of the partiers were reservists who'd just arrived at the front. First line veterans had either trudged back, or else had not returned at all. Lots of rookies lined the trenches and hopped out of them quickly that Christmas.

And consider this (the Brits certainly did). Ethnically, the German troops were Saxons and Bavarians, relatively sweet-natured chums. Had they been Prussian, no one would have peeked over the edge of the trench, even with a helmet.

Fourth, in a way, you didn't have to have a crystal ball to guess that such a truce would transpire. One Brit officer smelled one coming and commanded his men not to take part:

Friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices (e.g. “we won’t fire if you don’t” etc.) and the exchange of tobacco and other comforts, however tempting and occasionally amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited.

And then there's this: neither Brits nor the Gerries were on their own home turf. No French or Belgian troops swapped cigars or doffed each other's grog that Christmas. The war was being fought on their homeland, after all, so pass the ammunition.

Listen! Even the darkness weighed in. No Man's Land was strewn with the dead. Dozens of bloody corpses lay where advances from either side had failed. A Yule celebration began as a burial detail--men who’d been shooting at each other teamed up to bury their mutual fallen heroes. Read Psalm 90 sometime: "teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Imagine killing each other with that funeral favorite playing in your soul.

There’s perfectly logical explanations for a Christmas truce in No Man’s Land. Just think about it.

Or not. Imagine how hard it would have been to shoot at men when suddenly, thirty yards away, dozens of lighted trees went up on Christmas Eve. Good German folk had sent their boys half the Black Forest. You’d have to be heartless to shoot through a candle-lit chorus of shimmering trees.

Just imagine. What an amazing sight.

And then there’s this. The world sits in silence on Christmas Eve, as if, once more, we all await the bejeweled skies above us to come alive once more with a heavenly chorus blessing us all with words we need so badly to hear—“Fear Not. Fear Not.”

There’s a king in a barn, the old story maintains. We’re living a miracle.

No matter how you parse it, the peace that came to lay over the killing fields that night still breathes life into all of us, a divine joy that warms the soul.

No organ, no trumpet, no drum—only a chorus of men’s voices finding an ancient melody, a languages drifting together in harmonies in the cold and rain that night. Silent Night, holy night. . .Stille Nacht, heilege nacht.

All is calm. All is bright.

No matter how you I parse it, I guess, that night was, most certainly, a miracle.

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