One of the most remarkable stories from World War I is the spontaneous Christmas Eve cease-fire of 1914.
Huddled in their trenches on a bitter December day, Allied soldiers noticed something strange happening on the other side of the Western Front. They heard the familiar tune of “Silent Night,” but in German. At first cautious, they responded with an English chorus of “The First Noel.”
“How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each other’s throats immediately after?” wrote Private Frederick Heath in a letter home.
In pockets along the front, soldiers from opposing armies greeted one another and exchanged chocolates and cigarettes as gifts. There are even accounts of soccer matches played in no man’s land — the most famous of which the Germans claim to have won 3-2.
“Blood and peace, enmity and fraternity — war’s most amazing paradox,” scrawled the British private. “The night wore on to dawn — a night made easier by songs from the German trenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired.”
One hundred years later, it seems we need a similar moment in America, when we can step out of our trenches and seek peace with one another.
As an evangelical pastor, I’m painfully aware of how our differences can lead us to misunderstand, resent and hurt one another. We win arguments but lose relationships. We make more enemies than friends. Sometimes, it seems like we fight simply because that’s the only thing we’ve ever done.
Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, wrote that there’s “a time for war and a time for peace.” Could we make our current time of war into a time for peace?
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Every Christian in America is called to be a peacemaker among the ideological, racial, cultural and religious divisions of our day. But we must be well aware that peacemaking is anything but peaceful.
Peacemaking — or peace manufacturing, as I call it — requires you walk straight into the line of fire and expose yourself to risk of injury from both your enemies and your friends. It demands you love those who won’t love you back, speak blessings on those who curse you and give freely to those who don’t deserve mercy.
Peace manufacturing is a call to love everyone, everyday, like you’ve never been hurt.
Sometimes, peace comes at the expense of those who broker it. Jesus taught us as much by dying on a cross for the people who put him on it.
As his follower, I must be willing to take the risk and follow Jesus into no man’s land. Because if there’s one place he’s for sure in our embattled America today, it’s in the gap between our trenches.
Jentezen Franklin is senior pastor of Free Chapel and author of the forthcoming “Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt.”