The Story of Silent Night

The story of the hymn Silent Night was on the radio today and it made me cry, both tears of joy and anger. During WWI, in 1914 on Christmas Day, a temporary truce was called on the battlefields between the German and British armies and enemy soldiers came together to give gifts and care for the dead who previously were in limbo in No Man’s Land between the trenches. As they came together they sang the only Christmas song both sides knew, Silent Night, a hymn written nearly 100 years before in Austria where it was unknown for years except for the small town in the Alps where it was written until a visiting organ maker got a hold of the sheet music and gave it to a traveling family minstrel group (think the Von Trap family in The Sound of Music) who began to sing the song as they traveled Europe. Eventually the song grew in popularity was translated from German to English and today remains one of the most beloved of all Christmas hymns.

So why the tears this morning? As I drove and listened to a particularly quiet, haunting version sung by Sinead O’Connor, I thought of what a beautiful picture of Christ entering the world the story of the Christmas day truce and the soldiers singing together is. In the midst of war, death, horror, untold pain, courage, cowardice, mud, grime, filth, no man’s land and trenches, there was a moment of peace, where Christ was exalted by soldiers who had no reason to worship and sing other than being alive. This moment of clarity in the midst of such evil, death and darkness is a wonderful picture of what the birth of Jesus was and is to a world ravaged by sin and death. The joy of the birth of Christ of course, is that he grew up and went on to live the life we never could and defeated death and evil on the cross; the birth is the decisive moment of God entering into the world, putting his plan in motion. A plan that involved God himself suffering, experiencing a fallen world, God himself having people die for His sake (the young boys murdered by Herod after the rumor of the coming King reached him) before He died for all creation’s. It would be akin to the generals who were leading the insanity of WWI entering into those trenches, seeing No Man’s Land and experiencing the suffering and death there. Of course those generals were the problem not the solution but you get the point. The joy of the birth of Jesus is that He is Emmanuel, God with us in the midst of it all.
What angered me to tears when I heard the story this morning was the tragedy that after they sang together and exchanged gifts, after Christmas was over, the war continued, death marched on and hundreds of thousands more were lost due to the evil, prideful, nationalistic, sinful stubbornness of a few men sitting comfortably in their chateaus and castles. The same awful men who condemned the Christmas Truce treasonous. Of course I am simplifying things a bit but even the complicated truth is just as insane and stupid. What angers me is why evil like that exists in a world where I believe, sin and death are already defeated, the outcome is final but the game is still going on so to speak. I wish I understood, I wish I had an answer but I don’t and I come to a fork in the road, a decision I have to make: either I reject Jesus and choose to believe such evil is a part of human life that will never change or be defeated or I surrender my ignorance and frustration to Jesus and choose to follow Him with all I am and hold on to the hope He promised, that one day He will rid the world finally and decisively of all the ravages of sin and heal a fallen creation. For me the character of Jesus wins out, the evidence of his astounding faithfulness in my life, the moments I have seen his restorative healing love trump evil cause me to trust in him, like a child trusts his father when He says one day the hope promised will come to be final. It doesn’t change the anger that wells up when injustice is allowed to triumph over justice but it causes me to trust God’s ultimate justice is coming, in His timing, to rid the world of evil and that He is God with us now, in the midst. That is the hope of Christmas, the joy of Jesus, the future hope promised to us.
*As a small footnote, such faith and trust in God’s ultimate justice shouldn’t lead to an escapist (and in my opinion very American evangelical) mentality of screw the world lets just focus on heaven. The whole point of such a future hope is that we would reflect Jesus in the here and now and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to bring the future into the presence, to bring the hope, message, and active love of Jesus into the world around us. I realize I am just repeating a theme I often repeat on this blog but when I see on TV that you can buy an American flag colored Christmas tree with a freaking CROSS in the middle of it I get kind of depressed and feel the need to reiterate it.