The Christmas Truce of 1914: 100 Years Ago This Christmas

Chris —  December 23, 2014 — 1 Comment

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

One hundred years ago on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914 shooting on the Western Front stopped. Soldiers from opposing British and German armies walked peacefully over the top, shook hands with one another, and celebrated Christmas.

The below video is a dramatic account of that event. Such a bright light in a dark place is surely worth reflecting on.

When the Christmas truce of 1914 took place, the front lines of both armies were so close together that soldiers could talk to one another through the barbed wire. Because a large percentage of the Germans spoke English, language was not a barrier.

WorldWar1One soldier described in a letter how the Truce began. On Christmas Eve, a British soldier named Edgar Aplin sang a solo with a beautiful tenor voice. The German soldiers listened in the darkness and called out for another song.[1] Aplin obliged and the Germans responded with Silent Night. Then, somehow, in the midst of the fighting, on Christmas 1914, a temporary peace took place. Despite orders to not fraternize, the soldiers agreed to not fire for 48 hours. When they were directed to fire, they shot in the air. Both sides had received special gift parcels. They exchanged gifts.

Some of the details of the Christmas Truce of 1914 are disputed. Historians argue about whether there was a “football” game much less if the Germans won it on penalties.[2] But there is no question that the light of peace blazed into the darkness of the trenches on Christmas Eve of 1914.

*******

A fallen world can be a very dark place. In 2014 at our church in Stillman Valley, IL we thought a lot about “darkness.” If you follow this blog, then you know there were many posts (see some of them here) about our study in the book of Job. We wondered how it could be that God allowed a man who had everything to lose it in the context of Satan’s dispute with God. We thought about the problem of evil.

Of course, our church didn’t just study darkness during the last year. We experienced it. Though our trials were nowhere near as severe as Job’s, we lived with darkness. Some found out that they have cancer. There have been broken relationships and disease. Death took a young member of our community.

Yet, as we saw in the Job series, and as we have experienced in our own lives – – light always wins. That’s how light is: the darker the night, the brighter the light.

In the Job series our church saw that, given Christ, we can trust God even though we cannot understand everything. We learned and experienced that a god small enough to be comprehensively understood is not big enough to be worshipped. But surely the God who gave his only begotten Son is the God who can be trusted and praised: the darker the night – – the brighter the light.

In the words of John 1:5, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Light is a certain solution to darkness. We can picture it. Darkness never overcomes light.

Frederick Dale Bruner points out that in John’s Gospel, the verbs in the first four verses are all in the past or past-continuous tenses:

 In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through him,

and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

But in John 1:5, when John says, the light shines in the darkness, with the verb, “shines,” John changes from the past to the present tense.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John’s switch in tenses is electrifying. Bruner comments “suddenly something shines on.”[3] He explains that though, at Calvary, it had seemed to all outward appearances that Jesus was executed and that the darkness had prevailed – – Jesus rose again. Bruneer continues that even though now, too, by most outward indications in the present world, it may seem that darkness is winning, “nevertheless, appearances to the contrary . . . it will always be the deepest fact in all of history that, in John’s inspired words, it is ‘this Light that shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not put it out.’[4]

When the text of John 1:5 says that the darkness has not overcome the light – – the verb translated “overcome” carries the idea of “attacking with the implication of gaining control over.”[5] The same word for “overcome” appears in Mark 9:18 where an evil spirit takes over a young man. The text reads:

And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” (Mark 9:18 ESV)

The word translated “seizes” is the same one found in John 1:5.[6] Satan —the darkness—attempted to throw our King down and conquer him. And, on Good Friday, it might have appeared that the darkness won, but Christ rose from the dead. And the light shines on.

John anticipates all of this in John 1:5.

And the Light still shines today – – There are times when the darkness is violent:

Cancer rips out our hair.

Divorce devastates.

Heart disease saps our strength.

Sin ravages young people.

Death grips us.

Yet, Christ rose from the dead. He is coming again. We can be sure that the Light shines on, and will continue to shine on.

*****

The image of God as light is an important one. John R.W. Stott wrote that no biblical statement is more comprehensive of God’s essential being than the 1 John 1:5 assertion that God is “light.”[7] 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5a

The idea that God is light carries a number of truths with it.  First, God chooses to tell us about Himself.  The God of Heaven and Earth does not dwell in shadows, but he discloses himself, again using Stott’s words, in perfect purity and utter majesty.”

The idea of God as light also communicates ethical purity and holiness. So in the verses following 1 John 1:5, John encourages his readers to walk in the light. Indeed, The light that God shines does not simply tell us who God is  — – but light from God allows us to walk.  When we know Christ, the light that we find in God’s Word allows us to confidently move forward in life.  We do not need to hesitate or be unsure. We should walk in the light.

And, as we have said, light defeats darkness. The book of Revelation promises that there is coming a time when there will be no more darkness.

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5

Verses like John 1:5 and Revelation 22:5 in mind, light, ought always to encourage the believer, especially on dark nights. Tonight when you see Christmas Eve lights, think of the Light. Look across the winter fields and remind yourself that God is light. In Him there is not even a trace of darkness.  He does not dwell in shadows but He blazes a knowledge of himself into human history through His Creation and His Word.  He gives us this light not simply that we can worship His excellence, but also that we can walk forward in life, that we may have right conduct.

Light always prevails over darkness. Every time.

There is another point of application that cannot be missed. In the coming year, with a series on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we will be reminded that, in the absence of the resurrected Christ who has ascended to the right hand of the Father and poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church believers are called to be visible lights. Jesus said,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

******

We ought not to romanticize the Christmas Truce of 1914. After all, the cease fire was at the beginning of the War before the worst of the hatred took hold. Gas warfare was yet to come. And there would be no cease-fires from 1915-1918. Before it was over, World War I was horrible beyond comprehension. The casualty numbers tell us that England lost around a million people (2 %of their population). The number was closer to 2 million for the French who lost an estimated 3-4% of their population. Germany lost 2.5 million and around 4% of their population. The United States came to the war late and our losses were comparatively smaller at 117,000. Altogether, in World War I, somewhere between 15-19 million people died with 22 million wounded. And a flu epidemic came at the end of World War I that killed many more.

Even the Christmas Truce of 1914 was imperfect. Though the cease fire was generally observed at one point in the lines, a German sniper killed a British soldier. The soldier’s sergeant was furious and tracked down the sniper and killed him. But then he decided to pursue another sniper. The two snipers spotted each other at the same time and the German sniper shot first. So multiple families received the word that sons, husbands, and fathers had died on Christmas day.

The daughter of the British sergeant’s remembers the last time her father was home on leave in 1914 shortly before he was killed on the Western Front on Christmas Day. He came home to see his family and she ran out to greet her father before he could get to the door. He had brought her a tea set. She was so excited to tell her mom that when she ran back to the house she fell and broke the tea set. It would be her last gift.[8]

Maybe – – remembering that little girl’s precious gifts – – we ought to treasure our gifts more given the darkness.

In any case, the Christmas Truce of 1914 was only a glimpse of the light that will one day come when Christ appears. But the fact that it is still talked about 100 years later illustrates the truth that darkness doesn’t conquer light. In spite of the war that happened, the light of the Christmas truce shines 100 years later. Light defeats darkness. It did and it will. The darkness will never prevail over light because God is light and there is no darkness in Him.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Now we need to be lights. We need Christmas Truces not of 1914 but of 2014. If soldiers in the Great War could see their way clear to be brothers on Christmas Day, then maybe we could be moved to hug more people one hundred years later.

See also:

John Murray of Westminster Seminary and World War I

Christmas Truce of 1914 Was Broken When German Snipers Killed Two British Soldiers

How One Young Soldiers Song Inspired the 1914 Christmas Truce

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce

Why did God allow Satan to harm Job and his family?

[1] “How One Young Soldier’s Song Inspired the 1914 Christmas Truce,” The Telegraph, December 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/11302440/How-one-young-soldiers-song-inspired-the-1914-Christmas-Truce.html.

[2] Katie Daubs, “When German, British Soldiers Carolled and Played (we Think) Soccer,” December 19, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/news/world/ww1/2014/12/19/when_german_british_soldiers_carolled_and_played_we_think_soccer.html.

[3] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapds: Eerdmans, 2012), 17–18. Emphasis his.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] “39.48 καταλαμβάνω: to attack, with the implication of gaining control over—‘to attack, to overpower.’ ὅπου ἐὰν αὐτὸν καταλάβῃ ῥήσσει αὐτόν ‘whenever (the evil spirit) attacks him, it throws him to the ground’ Mk 9:18. The attack upon a person by a demon is often expressed idiomatically, for example, ‘to ride a person,’ ‘to seize a person’s mind,’ or ‘to grab a person’s inner life.’” This verb appears 15 times in the Greek New Testament. Sometimes it carries the idea of “comprehending” or “understanding.” See the NIV translation.

[6] In 1 Thessalonians the verb is translated by the ESV “surprise.” But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:4 ESV).

[7] John R.W. Stott, The Letters of John, Revised, vol. 19, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1990), 75. Portions of this adapted from Chris Brauns, “Light: A Most Import Statement About God,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, August 2, 2011, http://chrisbrauns.com/2011/08/light-a-most-import-statement-about-god/.

[8] “Christmas Truce of 1914 Was Broken When German Snipers Killed Two British Soldiers,” The Telegraph, December 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/11307513/Christmas-truce-of-1914-was-broken-when-German-snipers-killed-two-British-soldiers.html.

Be Sociable, Share!

One response to The Christmas Truce of 1914: 100 Years Ago This Christmas

  1. Very well written and compelling thank you for sharing. God bless.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML.

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> 

*