Monday, December 24, 2007

Silent Night; The Christmas Truce

By Victor M. Parachin: Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - When World War I erupted in 1914 launching the
first great European war of the 20th century, soldiers on both sides
were assured they would be home by Christmas to celebrate victory.
That prediction proved to be false.

The men on the fronts did not get home for Christmas as the war
dragged on for four years. During that time 8.5 million men were
killed, with hundreds of thousands more injured. The "war to end all
wars" took a horrific human toll and transformed Europe. However, on
Christmas Eve in December 1914 one of the most unusual events in
military history took place on the Western front.

On the night of Dec. 24 the weather abruptly became cold, freezing
the water and slush of the trenches in which the men bunkered. On the
German side, soldiers began lighting candles. British sentries
reported to commanding officers there seemed to be small lights
raised on poles or bayonets.

Although these lanterns clearly illuminated German troops, making
them vulnerable to being shot, the British held their fire. Even more
amazing, British officers saw through their binoculars that some
enemy troops were holding Christmas trees over their heads with
lighted candles in their branches. The message was clear: Germans,
who celebrated Christmas on the eve of Dec. 24, were extending
holiday greetings to their enemies.

Within moments of that sighting, the British began hearing a few
German soldiers singing a Christmas carol. It was soon picked up all
along the German line as other soldiers joined in harmonizing.

The words heard were these: "Stille nacht, heilige nacht." British
troops immediately recognized the melody as "Silent Night" quickly
neutralized all hostilities on both sides. One by one, British and
German soldiers began laying down their weapons to venture into no-
man's-land, a small patch of bombed-out earth between the two sides.

So many soldiers on both sides ventured out that superior officers
were prevented from objecting. There was an undeclared truce and
peace had broken out.

Frank Richards was an eyewitness of this unofficial truce. In his
wartime diary he wrote: "We stuck up a board with 'Merry Christmas'
on it. The enemy stuck up a similar one. Two of our men threw off
their equipment and jumped on the parapet with their hands above
their heads as two of the Germans did the same, our two going to meet

"They shook hands and then we all got out of the trench and so did
the Germans," Richards said. Richards also explained that some
German soldiers spoke perfect English with one saying how fed up he
was with the war and how he would be glad when it was all over. His
British counterpart agreed.

That night, former enemy soldiers sat around a common campfire. They
exchanged small gifts from their meager belongings - chocolate bars,
buttons, badges and small tins of processed beef. Men who only hours
earlier had been shooting to kill were now sharing Christmas
festivities and showing each other family snapshots. The truce ended
just as it had begun, by mutual agreement.

Captain C.I. Stockwell of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers recalled how,
after a truly "Silent Night," he fired three shots into the air at
8:30 a.m. December 26 and then stepped up onto the trench bank. A
German officer who had exchanged gifts with Captain Stockwell the
previous night also appeared on a trench bank. They bowed, saluted
and climbed back into their trenches. A few minutes later, Captain
Stockwell heard the German officer fire two shots into the air.

The war was on again.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Joseph's Letter Home

For the sermon today (Dec. 23) I read a letter written by Ralph Wilson, entitled "Joseph's Letter Home." I am not allowed to post the letter here, but you can read it on Ralph's website, at


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Shopping

I hate it when I'm out Christmas shopping and I get all upset and angry with other people BECAUSE THEY ARE ALSO OUT CHRISTMAS SHOPPING!!!!

Do you know what I mean?

It is a totally amazing contradiction in a season that is supposed to be filled with joy and love, to get over-the-top angry with people just because they are looking for parking spots, or searching in the same aisle for presents for their loved ones. And yet, year after year, it happens to me.

What is WRONG with me?

So I asked God. "What is wrong with me?" And you know what He said? He didn't say anything! He just showed me a movie.

The movie started when I was a little baby. It showed me crying because I was hungry. Then it showed me crying because I needed my diaper changed! Then it showed me crying because I wanted to be picked up. Are you getting the picture?

Then, the movie switched to me as a little boy. I was upset because my best friend, Franky, had the cool new toy that I wanted, but my parents weren't going to get it for me.

Then, it switched to me in college. I was angry because I couldn't find a parking spot and I was late for class!

"Ok, ok! I get it, God!" I'm selfish. I think only of myself. I get angry with other Christmas shoppers because I really don't care about them, deep down inside, as much as I care about myself. I get it.

Each and every one of "those people" out Christmas shopping at the same time as I am has a story, a family, a mom and dad, maybe even children. And, most importantly, each and everyone is a son or daughter of God! And, for the most part, they care more deeply about themselves than they do about me. Just like I do.

So, do you know what? I'm going to be different! That's right! I'm going to be different the next time I go out shopping. I'm going to remember what its all about.

It isn't about me.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Senseless Violence

The murders in Colorado this past Sunday morning at a church and a missionary training center serve to underline the depth to which our society is sinking. Add to that the murders of innocent people at shopping malls and schools, and the result is obvious: we are in trouble.

It wasn't that long ago that schools and churches were considered safe places. Those who were inclined to violence and crime simply did not perpetrate their evil there. But that is not true any more. In fact, it is becoming more and more the case that no one is safe anywhere. Nothing, as we say, is sacred anymore. Even in our own case, the arson fire that severely damaged our sanctuary was perpetrated, according to police and fire investigators, by someone who was expressing their anger at the church.

What is this world coming to?

More and more it is clear where this world is heading. And it should be no surprise to anyone who claims the biblical faith. Sin and depravity have eaten away almost all the boundaries that once marked decent society. The permissiveness of our culture has led to an "anything goes" mentality. The celebration of the rebel, the "sincere" criminal, and the elevation of those who feel they have a beef with society leads to less and less restraint. We give people permission to act in horrific ways through our media (movies, television, internet) which often portrays horrific acts as noble and necessary. What ever happened to evil?

Most people assume that the answer to our society's problems is political. That if we just elect the right president, or the right legislature, then everything will be ok. Things will be put right, and life will make sense again. I'm sorry if I sound skeptical, but the answer is not political. The steady parade of politicians promising to fix all of our ills and the painfully obvious failure of same to deliver should help us to see that "the answer" is not politics.

The answer is also not religious, at least in the sense of religious-politics. Elevating religion, even Christian, to a position of political power will not solve our problems. The only answer to all of our problems is Jesus Christ!

That is not a simplistic answer, either. Again, I am not talking politics! I am not saying that we need only "elect" Christian politicians. What I am saying is that unless and until we all give our hearts over to Jesus Christ I am afraid that our society's hell-bent rush to destruction will only continue. Only by submitting our hearts and lives to the Prince of Peace can there truly be peace on earth, goodwill toward all.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Separation of Church and State

The speech yesterday by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney concerning his Mormon faith gives us the opportunity to consider how our faith intersects our politics. Now, I know that "religion and politics" are two subjects that pleasant people avoid in conversation! But in truth, we need to think about both, and how each relates to the other.

First, a comment. For the most part, our society (and in particular, government entities in the US) have over-reacted when dealing with religious issues in the public sphere. Others have written and spoken about this far more eloquently than I can, but the essence of my observation is that the constitution and the Bill of Rights do not seek to protect the state from religious influences so much as to protect religious groups from undue state interference. This fact alone ought to give us pause whenever the ACLU or other groups file suit against cities (etc) for displaying nativity scenes or menorahs! Schools have likewise over-reacted, prohibiting students and staff from praying together, even if all are agreed and there is no pressure on others to join in. Some have even gone so far as to prohibit even periods of silence (presumably because someone might pray!). This over-reaction has led to far too many prohibitions and not enough freedom.

Now, to Romney's speech. I think it was very good. As a United Methodist Christian I have serious theological differences with the Mormon faith. In fact I would go so far as to say that as far as historical definitions of Christianity go, Mormonism is not orthodox Christian. I won't go into details here, but there are lots of excellent websites, books and articles in this regard. Nevertheless, I have no problem with a Mormon US president. Why? Because the Mormon's do not have any historical desire to "take over the world!" Some groups, such as Scientology and the more radical forms of Islam (among others) have demonstrated desires to transform governments and societies to fit their particular world view. Some more radical Christian and Jewish groups do as well. But Mormonism, apparently, does not. Therefore, I have no problem with a president who is a Mormon.

So why all the hoopla about Romney's religious faith? Mainly, I believe, because many Christians identify Mormonism as a cult. While I would not use the term "cult" I would use the term "sect" and even "non-christian sect". Mormons, of course, identify themselves as Christians, but that in and of itself is not sufficient to pass the test of orthodoxy. One need only remember (in the political realm) that East Germany called itself the German Democratic Republic, even though it was neither a republic nor democratic. Fear of the unknown has tremendous power, and most people do not know very much about Mormonism. But I believe we do not need fear having a Mormon president.

This is not an endorsement of Mitt Romney! I do not endorse any candidate for president. But I do applaud Romney's speech and the points that he made (you can watch it here). And I think that all Americans, Republican and Democrat, should think about these issues. I certainly think that all Christians should carefully consider how their faith effects their politics.