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By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST
AND ON EARTH, PEACE, GOODWILL TO ALL.
The Army chaplain of the 106th Division was captured in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Along with many other Americans, he was herded on to a freight car and taken into the heart of Germany.
On the evening of December 23rd, the men were in the railroad yard of a German city, when a devastating attack was made by the British Royal Air Force. Many of the American prisoners were killed as well as many Germans. The next night, Christmas Eve, the air raid was repeated. When the planes began to fly over, there was fear and alarm among the prisoners who were packed like sardines into these freight cars. The chaplain persuaded the German officer in charge to let him go up and down the line of the cars and talk to the men. As he passed by he said, “Boys, this is Christmas Eve and we are in a tough spot. But, if you have your Bibles, get them out and read the story of the birth of Jesus and you will know that He is with us even here. If you can’t read because of the darkness, then let’s sing.”
Immediately there was a medley of response. Some sang revival songs and some sang hymns. Then a rich baritone struck up “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and he was joined by others. Carload after carload joined in singing that beautiful Christmas carol. Then something marvelous happened. Other voices, German voices, began to sing the song in the original “ Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” The German voices and American voices blended together in praise of Christ who came to bring all people together in peace.
Isaiah the prophet had foretold that One would come who would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” After long years of waiting that angels proclaimed, “Be not afraid for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which is come to all people, for to you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The Prince of Peace had come to bring us peace.
Sigrid Undset, Norway ‘s greatest writer was a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and a convert to catholic Christianity. She wrote of the Christ child, “To people of good will, the Prince of Peace, has come as a new-born babe in a crib, and He has chosen to come to us so weak and naked in order that we may each do something for Him…Mary’s Son tells us that all we do or do not do for one of the smallest of His little ones, that we do or do not do for Him. When we give each other Christmas presents in His Name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, all the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans. He has given us all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all the green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit—and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused. And to save us from our foolishness and from all our sins, He came down to earth and GAVE HIMSELF.”
What the angel proclaims—peace on earth—the Christchild comes to give. In Him, the forces of evil are attacked and destroyed. This child offers life and salvation to all who believe. God’s good will is shown in the gift of the Savior, the Prince of Peace. In Jesus, God gives Himself to us and this world. God brings us peace.
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In the Bible, peace is more than the absence of war. Most of you have learned the Hebrew word for peace, SHALOM, which encompasses all we need for a full and rich life. It is what Martin Luther taught is meant by daily bread. It is Shalom to have everything we need such as food and clothing, home, work and income, a devoted family, and orderly community, good government, favorable weather, peace and health, a good name and true friends and neighbors.
Shalom is what God gives us in Jesus Christ. He is the peace which surpasses human understanding. It comes to us now in small bits, fragments of the great peace which shall come in God’s kingdom. On Christmas, the crime raters go down; people who are ornery and grumpy put on a smile, the newspapers and television reports are filled with heart-warming stories. What we have now as a token, felt in a night like tonight, an inkling of what will come. Someday we shall experience peace, shalom, in fullness before the throne of God. Tonight we feel a Christmas peace but the time will come when we enter into the peace of God’s eternal kingdom, a peace which will have no end.
I would like to share with you another story which comes out of war. It was the theme of last year’s powerful movie, Joyeux Noel. It is a story of British, French and German soldiers in the trenches of the First World War. All was quiet that evening of Christmas Eve 1914 on the Western Front which stretched from the Swiss Alps to the English Channel. The trenches came within fifty miles of Paris. The Great War was only five months old but already 800,000 young men had been killed or wounded. Every soldier wondered if Christmas Day would bring another round of killing.
But something happened: British soldiers raised “Merry Christmas” signs above their trenches and sang carols. They were answered by carols from the German side and little decorated Christmas trees which were lifted above the trenches so that the other side could see them. Then even more remarkable—on Christmas morning, unarmed soldiers lefts their trenches. The officers of both sides tried to stop them but they were unsuccessful. The soldiers met in the middle of No Man’s Land for songs and conversation. They exchanged small gifts, sweets and cigars. They passed Christmas Day peacefully along miles of the front. At one spot the British soldiers played soccer with the Germans who won 3-2. Even the next day, the peace continued, each side unwilling to fire the first shot. Finally fresh troops were moved in and the war began again.
Tonight we hear again the message of the angels: God is pleased with us, God’s good will is upon us. We are given God’s peace: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to all. So we put off our enmities and forget our grudges. We think kindly of family and friends and like to think we bear no one ill will. Tonight we will walk through the darkness and look at the starry sky. We sense all is calm, all is bright. But we know better. Christmas peace will not last but God’s peace will. God has given us Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Amen.
Copyright 2007, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.