Celebrating the Peace
For Christians, today is the day they commemorate the birth of the man they know as Jesus Christ. His creation story begins with an angel appearing to his mother and what is called an immaculate conception – the impregnation of a young girl by a deity. The girl, engaged to be married, comes from a family of devout believers, and while not a great deal of made of her fiancé’s faith, he too obviously believed.
The story of this Jesus’ birth is well known. The parents have traveled to another city from their home and find themselves arriving with no place to stay. A benevolent innkeeper lets them bunk in his stable and it is there that the baby called Jesus is born. What is sometimes forgotten is that it was all so very ordinary. Mary, the mother, was no different than most girls of her age and ethnicity. Joseph, the earthly father, was a simple carpenter. The baby was not surrounded by family but by nature, ordinary animals in their commonplace stalls.
Whether or not you believe the creation story of the man who would become Jesus Christ doesn’t really matter. It is a story believed and revered by the multitudes of Christians throughout the world. It has stood the test of time and is now standing the test of science as more and more archaeological finds are providing evidence of the places of the Jesus’ story. Places that today incorporate all three Abrahamic faiths in their creation stories.
We have spent the time known as Advent learning of not just the Abrahamic faiths but of over forty other religions and spiritualities. What may have been overlooked is their ordinariness – not in the beliefs but in their targets. The beliefs of each faith are extraordinary and all should be respected for that. Though the rituals may vary, the terminology differs, and the practices contrast one with another, they all celebrate a type of peace. Nonetheless, they all exist for man – the ordinary man.
Some belief systems emphasize individual peace while others strive for world peace. “The peace that passes all understanding” is the core for all of them. We tend to think of peace as the absence of conflict, the obtaining of all desires. We think incorrectly. Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, no trouble, or the absence of strife or hard work. Peace really means being in the midst of all of those things and yet, know tranquility in your heart.
On a cold December night in 1914, troops from opposing armies found themselves with only a bit of open field separating them. The field was littered with the bodies of fallen comrades and neither side felt it safe to retrieve them. Conditions were bitterly cold and, making it worse, all knew the date – December 24th. In the Ypres Salient region of Belgium, in an area the bordered both West and East Flanders, men huddled down hoping to survive the cold, the war, and their own melancholy.
Suddenly a melody is heard above the wind and chattering of men’s teeth. “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent Night, Holy Night”) was a German Christmas carol known to most of the men. However, though known to them, it was most unexpected. Not only was singing in the middle of a battlefield conflict not military strategy, it was also foolish. It gave away one’s location to the enemy, the enemy located just a few yards away across a field that once had seen red poppies bloom, poppies that were now shriveled in the harsh winter environment yet stained with the blood of fallen heroes. Ironically, singing the words “Silent Night” broke the uneasy silence of the two platoons of men.
It was the nature of the diversity of the countries fighting that not all the soldiers would have been Christian. Yet, an English voice would join in the singing. Together, the two groups of men, each singing in their own language, would rise out of their foxholes to walk towards each other in faith. Their faith might not have been exactly the same but the love and peace all revered was the same in each and every heart.
November 11, 1911 is the official Armistice Day for World War I but it was not the first armistice. After a brutal attack by German soldiers which left all but eighty of the Allied troops dead, having been backed into a barbed wire area known as the “Birdcage”, humanity saw light. It was not in a stable and the men were not messiahs but to each other, for a short period of time, they brought hope, camaraderie, and peace – an armistice of sorts. “We good,” was the beginning of a day which saw no hostilities, just the humanity and oneness of man. It was a scene repeated up and down the Belgium front as well as the Western Front which stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland. Later British corporal Eric Rowden would tell of how he and German Werner Keil exchanged names and a button from each one’s uniform. “We laughed and joked together, having forgotten war altogether.”
Whether or not you believe in a man called Jesus of Nazareth is not really important as this day dawns. You may celebrate the birth of one who preached universal love and peace for all or you may worship one of the multitudes of deities we have discussed throughout this month of December. The purpose of the season of Advent is preparation and introspection. Hopefully, you have seen that, regardless of what and how we practice our beliefs, each day is a time to celebrate. Each morning can and should be the dawn of humanity. The real message of Christmas is as that German young soldier proclaimed: “We good.” May today we learn to live the rest of his message: “We no shoot.”
May today we neither attack by words, thoughts, nor deeds any other part of creation. May today you feel the love of humanity and help spread it. Today, I wish you peace and harmony. I hope you celebrate the ordinary and in doing so, realize the miracle of humanity.