One of the most inspirational Christmas Eve stories in western history is the account of the peace which broke out in the no-man’s-land between the lines of battle during the First World War on Christmas Eve of 1914. In 2008, Fritz West used the “Serving the Word” section of Homily Service to help readers reflect upon the Christmas Eve scripture lessons as illustrated by this historic subversion of human power.
The passage from Isaiah hopes that the newly born heir to the throne of Judah will rule with the justice of God. The Gospel passage speaks of both Caesar Augustus, the king of Rome, and Jesus, the king of kings. Caesar Augustus initiated the Pax Romana, which brought the Roman Empire centuries of relative peace; a period without serious unrest. Jesus Christ initiated the peaceable kingdom, reconciling rather than repressive, the kingdom that has no end.
We find the same tension on the battlefield of the First World War. The events of Christmas 1914 alarmed the generals. This was no way to fight a war... How could the generals fulfill their military objectives with their men out of the trenches playing soccer with the enemy? Next year, as Christmas approached in 1915, they took decisive action. Strict orders came down the chain of command: “Stay in your trenches. Anyone caught fraternizing with the enemy will be shot!” And so the peace of the earthly kings reigned once again, similar to the Pax Romana of Caesar Augustus - that forced Jesus’s family to go to Bethlehem to be registered by the Roman authorities. Control! Oppression! Power!
As preachers, pastors and liturgists, we are persons who hold no small degree of power over the worship lives of congregations. Additionally, contemporary disagreements over the character of Christian worship has often been characterized as “Worship Wars.”
What would it look like if the people of God decided to declare a truce between the competing “sides” in the current conflict over worship? Would you, as one of the generals, object?
Fritz West is pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Fountain City, Wisconsin. He is author of Scripture and Memory: Te Hermeneutic of the Three-Year Lectionaries, and serves as the presiding member of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship.