Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Makes A Statement For Peace

The road from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the expectant Mary and her husband Joseph was anything but a paved highway. It was one rough, yet ancient trail, and pilgrims of all faiths have traveled the dusty path for centuries.

Bethlehem was an ordinary market town in the hill country of Judah. It was about five miles from Jerusalem. The Hebrew Bible identifies Bethlehem, as the hometown of King David. He was crowned King of Israel some centuries before the couple from Nazareth got there.

It was just east of Bethlehem where the foreigner Ruth of Moab gleaned the fields along with her mother-in-law Naomi. The Jews of Judah were good to the immigrant work force. Live and let live was a good policy. It was in Bethlehem the Old Testament prophet Micah predicted the birth of the Messiah.

There are two accounts in the Bible describing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Luke, an associate of the Apostle Paul and Matthew who was not liked or appreciated “for he was a tax collector.”

Two other Gospel accounts of Jesus life and ministry make no mention of Bethlehem. The Gospel According to Mark is thought to be the earliest of the four Gospels and John the final one written some 90 or 100 years after Jesus’ birth.

Other than these two birth announcements, early historians have made little note of it, even after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You would have thought after the trial and murder of Jesus some enterprising reporter would have used some shoe leather to investigated this unusual and amazing prophet.

After Jesus’ miraculous resurrection from the dead still no headlines. A Jerusalem earthquake loosed many from their graves as the newspaper reporters slept. How interesting it would have been had someone interviewed “the no longer dead” as they held reunions with their “still living” loved ones.

A slow day in the newspaper offices is a day with little news of note. The birth, trial, death and resurrection of Jesus is not the only time when unusual events took place to little reaction.

One such event took place on the Western Front during the First World War. This happening took place in the cold rain and senseless killing in the filthy trenches of that war.

Stanley Weintraub, a military historian, retells the story in his book, “Silent Night.” A story thought by many to be a myth. It is one of history’s most powerful – yet forgotten – Christmas stories.

It was Christmas, 1914, when the war was just beginning. Soldiers on both sides threw down their arms and came together across the warring lines. They sang carols, exchanged gifts, ate and drank together naively hoping the war would come to an end.

It began when German soldiers lit candles on small Christmas trees and British, French, Belgian and German troops serenaded each other on Christmas Eve. Soon they were gathering and burying their dead, in the age-old custom of truces.

The Generals were angry at what was happening. Generals have little to live for but war – and they don’t like to lose. Instead of the soldier’s hopes to end the fighting the war sloshed on for four more years of carnage.

But a statement was made for peace that Christmas of 1914 just as the Bethlehem event of the coming of the Prince of Peace did. Like a dream, the impossible happened – and was promptly forgotten – as men got on with the grim business of war. War makes more news than peace.

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