Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

If Only We Recognized the Prince of Peace

I’ve heard the story.  I’ve read the story.  And I just watched the story on the History Channel while I was mortifying my flesh on the treadmill.  The Christmas Truce of 1914 is truly a historical wonder, but not for conventional interpretation.

For context, a quick re-telling: On the Western Front, five months into World War I, British and German soldiers made enemies through no act of their own, found themselves staring across No Man’s Land at each other on Christmas Eve.  Across that void, the British heard Germans singing, “Stille nacht, heilige nacht…” and some of them began to sing back, “Silent night, holy night…”

Peace broke out.  Enemies met in that space between the trenches and exchanged food, chocolate, trinkets, buttons and other bits of memoriabilia.  There was a small Christmas tree.  They even had a soccer match.  It must have been an absolutely miraculous moment.

The Christmas Truce so took hold that the British officers actually had a pretty hard time getting their troops back into a more bellicose posture.  According to the History Channel telling, it took a British officer essentially murdering a defenseless German soldier to jump-start the war.  Four long years of horrific bloodshed ensued.

Historians on the program opined that the “reason” such a moment could take place was because the combatants could – in the Christmas moment – recognize their common “humanity.”  The narrator even used the word “fellowship” in describing how quickly and well these men bonded with each other.

Completely lacking was the historians’ recognition of the common faith of the British and German soldiers.  What an astonishing blind spot!  Recognizing the “humanity” in someone else does nothing to explain this moment and, worse, it positively ignores the obvious.  These British and German combatants, in hearing the songs of Christmas, recognized their common Lord.  Something bigger than France, Britain or Germany was revealed, if only for a moment – the governance of the Prince of Peace.

Now let’s play the historian’s game and think about counterfactuals – the “what might have happened” had event B taken place rather than event A.  So, in my little scenario, let’s say that the troops – recognizing the implication of Christians killing other Christians – on both sides had refused to carry on with the war.  What if they had realized that both  British and German followers of Jesus had something in common that transcends national status?  What if the moment had been permitted to develop (the History Channel program played out just this possibility that perhaps the war might have been permitted to stop right then), which might have dramatically foreshortened what became a long and bloody war?

A Christmas Truce of 1914 that led to peace would have prevented the humiliation of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles…and Hitler would not have happened.  There would not have been the smoldering resentment in Germany that fed his demonic vision.  The German economy would not have been shattered.  The political situation would have been different.  No Hitler, no World War II.  Imagine a history without either World War I or II.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a historical marvel.  We ought to scour history for other such moments.  They show us the Prince of Peace ruling.  If only we recognized him. Come, Lord Jesus.


December 23, 2009 Posted by | Christian Spirituality, General, Religion | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Easter Monday

Easter Monday.  The second day of the New Creation.  

Because I am again serving as pastor to two small congregations, I preached yesterday.   I followed the lectionary and used Mark 16:1-8 as the Gospel text.

Perhaps because of our circumstances, I was taken with how the story describes the response of the women to the news of Jesus’ resurrection.   “Terror and amazement seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Here the so-called shorter ending of Mark stops.  It is thus replete with ambiguity.  The scripture clearly states that Jesus is alive.  The women don’t know how to deal with this news, so they do nothing.

Their lack of action seems particularly relevant for the way many of us live today.  We Christians claim to be Easter people, but we live pretty much like Jesus were still dead.  It’s Easter Monday.  After the little bump of Easter festivities, what is different about today?  What is different about our vision?  Our witness?

As part of my personal prayer time, I have been reading through 1 Corinthians.  As you might imagine, chapter 15 has been holding my attention.  This morning I re-read verses 24-25: “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”    

I found myself asking, “By what means is Christ now destroying every ruler, authority and power?”  Clearly Paul believes that God is the Lord of history, period.  We’ve all had our view about history distorted by learning that it involves (social history excepted) only major public events: governments and wars and world leaders and such.   Jesus doesn’t seem to fit very well in that picture, even for Christians.   

This historical myopia exposes a huge problem.  I think the answer to how Christ is destroying rulers and authorities is “by means of Christian witness,” not a comforting thought.  We (American) Christians are not doing too good a job in the witness department.  

We’ve gotten too cozy with rulers and powers.   Again I’m using terms I don’t like.  Conservative Christians have tried to use the levers of governmental power to legislate against abortion, homosexual practice, taxes, etc.  Liberals have taken the same tactic with a different view of the same issues.  Then the two groups argue about who is “more Christian,” as if advocating for legislation is Christian witness.  

Certainly we have a responsibility to act as good citizens, which means we should have opinions about such matters.  But we should also remember that this citizenship is double-edged, fraught with temptation.  And when we permit our witness to narrow to nothing more than expressing certain political opinions, even if couched in the rhetoric of morality, we should be ashamed.  I know it has been said a thousand times by people more eloquent than I: when Christians get too comfortable with worldly power, we forfeit our good witness.  We still have a witness.  It’s just a bad one.

It’s Easter Monday.  By God’s grace, let Jesus’ people make a good witness.

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Biblical Preaching/Teaching, Christian Spirituality, Pop Culture, Religion, The Church | , , , , , | 1 Comment