Updated: Feb 3
Our Christmas Night Mass readings can be found: [HERE].
Merry Christmas! Last week, I came across a Christmas advertisement from 2014, which was more of a short film. It commemorated a remarkable event that had occurred a hundred years prior. It led to somewhat of a YouTube deep dive into the actual event.
The year was 1914, and the world was finally united, but in the worst way possible. It was united in war; the Great War, as it was called at the time, or “the war to end all wars,” known more commonly today as World War I.
Over its deadly course, more than 70 million military personnel were eventually mobilized. The death toll is estimated at 9 million combatants and 13 million civilians, with devastation throughout Europe and other parts of the world. That’s what happens when the bond between nations became alliances into bloodshed, when massive death at range becomes commonplace, when the nobility of cavalry is easily mowed down before the line of machine gun.
But five months into the war, something quite extraordinary occurred. For a brief moment, there was widespread pause in the insanity. Where kings and governments had refused ceasefire, a soldier’s truce was built along the frontlines. Unofficially, hostilities ceased all along the western front. The occasion was Christmas.
At one point in the battleline during the night, a German voice was heard that pierced the silence. He sung, Stille Nacht. The words were foreign to English ears, but every note was known by heart. Soaring above that no-man’s land where bullets would not fly that night, was the song that every heart longed to hear: Silent Night.
Slowly, faith overcame fear, and men on each side left their trenches and crossed the distance, to see the so-called enemy, face to face. What those men could not claim earlier by force of arms, they achieved with arms outstretched in brotherhood. Salutes were exchanged, invoking its original message of peace. Vulnerability attained the victory that was denied to violence. Voices united in song and good cheer filled the air in the absence of gunfire and cannon.
It wasn’t so much the song, as the mystery it signified that disarmed men’s aggression. For a brief moment, they were all Christian men first before they were patriots. They were citizens of the heavenly country before worldly loyalty would resume its course. They all remembered the ancient event—a unifying event—that happened nineteen centuries earlier. That memory led those warriors to transcend their present differences.
That event is why we’re here tonight. Like that ceasefire of 1914, the nativity of Jesus Christ truly is a historical event. As we heard, the evangelist Luke includes details of a historical nature. It seemed important to him to emphasize its historicity: the name of Caesar Augustus is invoked, as is the name of Quirinius, who was the governor of Syria at that time. He speaks of a census that affected the entire empire, from the capital of Rome to the smallest corner; the city of David called Bethlehem, in Judea. Details like these matter. They help us to remember. They remind us of the reality of our God’s birth into humanity. They teach us of our true origin, our true brotherhood, our true citizenship, which continues to transcend any worldly allegiance.
Like those warriors from a hundred years ago, we can be paralyzed in our trenches, whatever those trenches may be, metaphorically. We can be afraid to leave behind our solitude and venture out into the larger world. We can be afraid to be with others, to look them in the eye and share the same space, for any number of worldly reasons. We can forget that there are some things worse than death.
But the event we remember tonight gives us faith that casts out fear. We remember when the world saw the incarnate face of love for the first time in history. That claim, which we pro-claim boldly, is the summons that leads us out of our trenches and into the wonderful vulnerability of seeing one another, face to face; and joining our song with theirs.
And so, once again tonight, I solemnly proclaim to you news of great joy, that glorious proclamation that first resounded in history nearly two thousand years ago:
The Twenty-fifth Day of December, when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness; when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace; in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees; in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt; around the thousandth year since David was anointed King; in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man: The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.