Ninety seven years ago, a miracle happened. You probably have never heard of it, neither have your parents. But your grandparents who were alive during World War I might know of it. It stands as a remarkable testament to the power of Christ’s light shining in a very dark place. It is called the Peace or Truce of 1914 and it happened on Christmas.
All across the Western Front in Europe, soldiers on both sides laid down their arms and came together. It happened in varying degrees across the battle lines, and for a moment, those soldiers were not enemies, just men. Some shook hands or listened to Christmas carols the other side sang. Some crossed into enemy territory to exchange gifts and addresses. Some buried their dead together. But it happened in such a way that most couldn’t believe it, even as they were living it. It can only be attributed to God’s power on the day we celebrate His Son’s birth.
The author, Mike Snow, in his book Oh Holy Night, documents what happened leading up to World War I and after – as well as details about that fateful Christmas Day, taken from the letters of soldiers who wrote about to their families. They had been in a living hell, but suddenly a window to Heaven opened and peace descended. So many of the letters start with “I can barely believe what I’m about to write.” Truly, God’s thoughts are not ours and, thankfully, He proves it.
Snow also includes letters between the German Kaiser and Russian Czar –both cousins, which set the stage for how the war began. Snow also discusses how World War I set the stage for the 2nd World War to follow – in the details of the Armistice that left Germany starving for leadership – to right the blow they felt they had been dealt.
The short book is not only a history lesson, it is an opportunity to engage with Christ through real-world events on a battlefield 400 miles long. Christ’s mission doesn’t get any more tangible than that. It is a great read for lovers of history as well as those who might be intrigued by God’s work through regular people.
During our conversation regarding his book, Snow had this to say regarding his goal in writing it:
To look at what we do as humans, outside of the light of Christ, to be more aware of the choices and keeping our eyes on our Lord and walking in His Ways and not the ways of the world. It was that perspective that got me started. I also looked at it as when people don’t have a strong Christian commitment – this story interests them and is a way for them to be drawn closer to Christ. It is an interesting story to people from any perspective and it is a bridge to the Gospel.
When I asked what he saw as the meaning of the Truce that overcame the fighting on Christmas in 1914, Snow offered:
These people were raised in churches. When Christmas came, that really had meaning to them and it was the opportunity for Christ’s light to really break into the darkness. For some of them, it was a traditional thing and there were all kinds of degrees of it. But it was just a rare moment when Christ’s light shined and I’m sure it was very hard, very reluctant to start the fighting again. There were stories of men who had to be removed because of their hesitancy to fight afterwards. The question that needs to be looked at is, should we be fighting in wars if we follow Christ – especially Christians shooting Christians? The line had been crossed in WWI and there was no going back, it made the 2nd war inevitable. Lincoln in much of his words on the Civil War always made the note about God’s judgment for our sins – and when we cross a line, we have to reap what we sow. It was just a shame the line was crossed and there wasn’t enough salt and light in the Church to prevent it.
The nearly hundred years that have followed since the Peace of 1914 are indeed the lesson to us in the 21st century. It was the bloodiest time in human history. But there is always a different option. We can choose to live as Jesus would have us and in the remembrance of Christmas every year – His First Coming, is the prelude to how different things will be at His Second from what they are now. Christmas keeps us looking forward.
Oh Holy Night, The Peace of 1914, is thought-provoking read and an excellent example of what faith in Christ can do for our world. It tells our history so that our future can be changed. But more than anything, it shows how different we can be with God’s light living in us.