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Finding the hope of advent in the darkest corners of humanity

For week two of Advent, the theme is hope.

In 2016, the world seems dark and filled with conflict. War and violence are common; our hearts ache with uncertainty and loss. We take sides against each other, both literally and figuratively.

But it is in this darkness that hope shines brightest.

In the 2006 movie Children of Men, the world faces a bleak, hopeless future. For unexplained reasons, humanity has become infertile. No baby has been born in eighteen years. The world, fractured by despots and terrorists, has descended into chaos. The human species is being wiped out by attrition and war.

Then, amazingly, a woman becomes pregnant. Like the infertility, this event is unexplained.

At the climax, a fierce battle rages outside as the woman, hiding in a decrepit building, gives birth. A miracle baby is born.

Furtively the protagonist escorts her out, but the fighters begin to notice the baby. The shooting dies down; the air becomes still. The protector, woman, and child pass through a gauntlet of stunned silence. Peace falls as a sliver of hope returns to the world.

It’s a nativity story, if you will, set in a dystopian world. A world not unlike our own.

In the summer of 1914, Great Britain and its allies engaged Germany and the Central Powers in World War I. Many Allied soldiers enlisted to help fight “the war to end all wars,” which was predicted to be over by Christmas.

Gradually the combat spread 400 miles along Europe’s western front. But by mid-December, this front had reached a stalemate.

In the freezing cold, the two forces dug in—in some spots barely a hundred feet apart. Close enough for eye contact. The trenches were flooded with water, waste, and misery.

But by Christmas Eve 1914, the war’s end was nowhere in sight. The hope of a swift and glorious victory was gone. Lice, squalor, and trench-foot were the norm. One careless moment could prove fatal. They say you never hear the shot that gets you.

As the rest of the world celebrated the hope of Christmas, death and despair hung over the trenches. The western front was at its darkest.

Then something remarkable happened. From the German trenches came the sound of singing in the frigid air:

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht

Alles schläft, einsam wacht.

Nur das traute hochheilige Paar,

Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

The Allies didn’t know German, but they knew the tune. Slowly they added their voices in English:

Silent night, holy night—

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon virgin mother and child,

Holy infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace!

Sleep in heavenly peace!

Then a British guard saw a shocking sight: a German soldier making a suicide walk. Holding a small Christmas tree lit by candles, he crossed over to the British trench and offered up a warm “Merry Christmas.”

At first it was thought a trick, but one by one the British soldiers climbed out their trenches and laid down their arms. German soldiers did the same.  Across no-man’s land the two sides shook hands, traded chocolate and cigarettes, and chatted about better times. They helped one another bury their dead. Even a soccer match broke out.

Not long before, these men had been aiming their guns at one another, shooting to kill.

But on Christmas Eve, this stretch of the western front was silent. A glimmer of hope had returned.

Each year during Advent, I remember this Christmas Truce of 1914.[1] I am amazed to think that two millennia after Christ came, his birth could still bring peace in the middle of a world war.

As long as humans have existed we have tried to enforce peace by might and coercion. But it is always short-lived and superficial—just a shadow of the peace Jesus brings. We cannot push back the night; all we can do is invite him to invade our darkness.

In this week of Advent,  I encourage you to reflect on the power and hope of the incarnation.  Our dark world needs hope. Our hurting hearts need hope. Just remember that hope comes only from Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

 

[1] For details on the Christmas Truce, see http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/christmas-truce-of-1914

Published inAdventHistoryHope

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