Plato once said “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. A dismal observation yet a cursory study of human history reveals that somewhere in our world someone is at war. The Christmas wish of “peace on earth” seems to be only wishful thinking.
In my years working with veterans, I have seen that those veterans have particular difficulty if in some way they came to see “the enemy” as simply another human being. Yet making those connections is where we find hope. Hope that the human spirit is big enough to be able to rise above differences, big enough to resist the pettiness of leaders, big enough to consider that the man or woman bearing a weapon on “the other side” is also a child of God.
There are a few historical events that give me hope. After the fall of Richmond, President Lincoln was touring a hospital when he came to the cot of a wounded Confederate officer. Lincoln offered his hand and the officer asked “Do you realize whose hand you want to shake?” Lincoln smiled and said “I do and I hope he will accept my hand.” The officer indeed shook Lincoln’s hand in a moment that left an impression on those around him.
There is the Christmas truce of 1914. Soldiers on opposite trenches agreed to suspend hostilities. Slowly, they emerged from the trenches, meeting halfway. As portrayed in the great film “Joyeaux Noel”, they conversed, sang, and the next day played soccer.
Sadly the holiday passed and soldiers returned to their trenches to once again be enemies.
Then there is the story of Desmond Doss. Doss was a conscientious objector who nonetheless wanted to serve in the military as a medic. His story is told in the film “Hacksaw Ridge”. A man of deep faith, he rescued 75 wounded soldiers, including several wounded Japanese soldiers. A man of non-violence, he received the Medal of Honor.
These images of people of war reaching across enemy lines to console or rescue or simply to play together gives me hope.
I’ll close with a beautiful hymn from “Joyeux Noel”. I dedicate it to all those men and women in strange countries at this time of year in the hopes that eventually we will find a way to put an end to the war that separates us from one another https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExrRiw1vGNM
Here also are the lyrics to the song. Quite poetic.