The twentieth century opened with one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history - World War I. Advances in science and technology made the slaughter of human lives possible on a massive scale. Airplanes could now drop bombs creating widespread destruction, and mustard gas burned the skin off soldiers.
Nowhere was the fighting fiercer than on the front lines along the Western front. British and German troops hunkered down in trenches along the lines exchanging gunfire and lobbing grenades. When the artillery failed to kill the troops, dysentery and dehydration succeeded in finishing them off.
.However, on Christmas day of 1914 at Ypres, Belgium, the hounds of war were called off for a brief time. To celebrate the holiday, German soldiers began decorating their trenches with lights and singing carols. The British troops responded by singing carols of their own and shouting Christmas greetings to their German counterparts. In a show of holiday spirit, they agreed to stop the shooting to allow each other to leave their trenches to collect and bury the corpses of their dead comrades. In the process, the British and German troops began talking. They exchanged gifts and, in some locations, even held joint Christmas services.
Sadly, these friendly exchanges were not enough to bring an end to the brutal war. The fighting eventually resumed as fiercely as it had before. But for a brief time the soldiers came to see each other not as enemies but as friends. They recognized their common humanity. They saw that they all had families they were anxious to return to and a future full of dreams they hoped to pursue. For a fleeting time, they experienced the gift which Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was born to bring to earth. Only Jesus, who could gather indigent shepherds and wealthy, world-wise Magi together in a stable in Bethlehem, can bring peace to a world rent by conflict and division.