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 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 put down their weapons to experience peace.
How is it that such an event could have taken place during such a brutal war? How is it that men who only one day earlier had tried to kill one another could cross over the barbed wire and embrace each other as brothers? It is only possible through Jesus. It is not a coincidence that this truce took place on Christmas day. As the soldiers decorated their trenches and sang Christmas carols their hearts became filled with the love of God, a love that does not see race, nationality or social status. It was that love of God that gave them the courage to cross the battle lines and turn enemies into friends. 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.
This night we gather to celebrate the gift which Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was born to bring to earth. As Isaiah prophesied, a child is born for us. This baby, born in a stable, is the world’s only hope. Before Jesus, the world was covered with darkness. Each nation had its own idols. Each kingdom struggled to gain dominion over other kingdoms and to do away with other peoples altogether. Now that the Savior of the World has been born, people of all nations have come to recognize the one true God and Father of all. We can put down our weapons and cool our hostility as we come to see through our differences to the image and likeness of God within each of us.
A great light shines this night to a world that has too long been covered in darkness. All of us desire peace, but we do not know how to find it. We have tried every thing from treaties to alliances to negotiations to try to find peace, but it has always eluded us. Tonight God reveals to us that only in Jesus can our world ever know peace. Only Jesus can remove the hate, prejudice and selfishness which are the root of conflict and violence. Only when the world comes to know Jesus can we ever experience real and lasting peace.
On this night we celebrate that what was thought to be impossible became a reality. The virgin gave birth to a Son. God became man. Angels appeared to shepherds in a field. Wise men from the East were drawn to Bethlehem by a star. Tonight we rejoice because with God all things are possible. The Heavenly Father who gave his Son not only to be born but to die for us can do all things. The light that has shone upon us through the birth of Jesus will illuminate for us the way to peace both for ourselves personally, for our nation and for our world. All we need is the courage to follow that light, and the impossible will become real.
There are many corners of our world that this light has not yet reached. There are many people who turn away from the light because they prefer darkness. We need to bring the light that is within us to them so that they can know the peace of Christ which their hearts have yearned for but which has eluded them. As the angels announced the good news to the shepherds, we must announce to all those we meet that our Savior is born and that He may be found by all who wish to know Him. As the star led the Wise Men across the desert to Bethlehem, so we must lead others to where they may find the Messiah who was born to save them. We who believe and have been touched by Jesus are now the light of the world bringing hope and peace. The torch has been passed on to us and we must go out lighting the torches of all those whom God places in our path.
The world can know true and lasting peace because it is what God wants for us. And nothing is impossible with God. Come to Bethlehem and see.