In 1914, during the First World War, a Christmas miracle happened.
British and German troops ceased their fighting so they could celebrate Christmas together. Troops from both warring parties exchanged goodwill with one another. They sang Christmas carols together, played soccer, swapped cigarettes, and even helped each other bury their dead. Days later, they returned to their fighting under the instruction of their superiors.
Back in the golden days of Saturday Night Live, they used to feature quotes from Jack Handey’s “Deep Thoughts” collection in between skits. In one of Handey’s most poignant comedic commentaries on war, he wrote, “If you’re in a war, instead of throwing a hand grenade at the enemy, throw one of those small pumpkins. Maybe it’ll make everyone think how stupid war is, and while they are thinking, you can throw a real grenade at them.” As a kid, when I first saw that quote, I was rolling on the ground laughing. The razor sharp wit took such a sharp, dark turn that it struck a chord with my funny bone. But as an adult who lives in the melee of sobering world events, it resonates in a different way. It just seems a little too real. At best, war is a necessary evil. At worst, war is unadulterated madness. For those soldiers who had dared to enter into the unofficial 1914 ceasefire, it must have seemed like insanity to depart from the spirit of Christmas and descend back into the hell of war. They must have felt like someone had thrown them a baby pumpkin just long enough for them to see the absurdity of war. And then the real grenades followed.
Don’t let my long hair fool you. I’m not a hippie or a pacifist. I am keenly aware that there are just reasons for going to war, especially when facing tyrannical egomaniacs bent on world domination. My grandfather, Rod MacAulay, joined the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II with the noble intention of stopping Hitler. He eagerly joined the fight as an under-aged youth by hiding his true age and fully anticipated that he would lay down his life for the greater good. Yet, when his crew took aboard a group of German POWs, he and his crew treated them with respect and dignity, even to the point of sharing food, drinks, and photos of loved ones. After the war, my grandpa sought a life of peace as a minister and spoke candidly about the futility of war and his disillusionment with the propaganda associated with military battles. He spoke fervently about his revelation that there had to be a better way than just killing one another. That better way, as he discovered, was the way of love. He would say, “Only one guy has the answer… and it’s love,” as he pointed skyward indicating that Jesus was indeed the source of all love.
Christmas is the celebration of the arrival of love personified. Love did not appear to us as an armor clad warrior but as a delicate and vulnerable baby. And as this Prince of Peace grew into a man, he became a teacher who illuminated a better way than our failed religious and governmental institutions, only to die as naked and vulnerable as the day he was born.
As I write these words, my younger brother is vacationing in Vietnam with his good German friend. Years ago, that scenario would be unthinkable. Yet, somehow after all the bloodshed between Americans, Germans, and Vietnamese, peace found a way. May we all find that way by the light of love.
PAUL MICHAEL JONES is an artist who currently dabbles in music, photography and creative writing.