The following is a true story originally read by famous news reporter Walter Cronkite in 2003 with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. At the bottom of this post you will find the video in case you wish to follow along.
Silent Night, Holy Night
Almost 100 years ago, during the Christmas of 1914, the nations of Europe were at war. It was “The Great War”… World War One.
A new century brought a new kind of warfare. Field commanders quickly realized that digging in was the only way to survive the sweep of machine gun fire.
The German army had marched across Belgium before being stopped at Flanders Field. Some 60 yards away, British, French and Belgium troops languished in trenches infested with rats and lice. Pelted with freezing rain and shrapnel… temperatures dropped and disease took hold. The war was only 4-months old… but each side was losing thousands a day – both to bullets and to that silent, common enemy… influenza.
Between the opposing trenches was an area about the width of a football field…known as “No Man’s Land.” Littered with barbed wire and corpses, it was a sobering reminder of what the future might bring. By wars end, more than 10 million would be lost.
Not surprisingly… given the circumstances… most of the soldiers were religious, and many were Christian. On Sundays, communion was passed in the trenches on both sides… often to the sound of church bells ringing in nearby villages. The occasional hymn was sung and youthful voices were heard across enemy lines.
By December, the war slowed and hopes for a resolution were fading away.
Soldiers were contemplating their desperate situation… as nights grew long and hearts yearned for peace.
December 23rd. A group of German soldiers quietly moved to the ruins of a bombed-out monastery. There, they held their first Christmas service. Later that night, a few Christmas trees –Tannenbaums, as they were called – began to appear along the German fortifications—their tiny candles flickering in the night. Across the way, British solders took an interest in those lights as they sang together the carols of their youth. Word spread and heads peeked cautiously over sandbags at the now, thousands of Tannenbaums, glowing like Christmas stars.
Two British officers ventured over to the German lines and — against orders — arranged a Christmas truce. But the negotiation was a mere formality by then.
Up and down the trenches, men from both sides had already begun crossing the lines to join in the celebration.
Lt. Sir Edward Hulse assaulted the enemy with music. In a letter to his mother he wrote, “We’re going to give the enemy every conceivable song… from carols to Tipperary.”
The Germans responded with a Christmas concert of their own. It was not long before the cold air rang with everything from “Good King Wenceslaus” to Auld Lang Syne. For the next 2 days, those tidings continued to spring from the hearts of common men who shared the common bond of Christmas.
Further down the line, a German violinist stood atop his parapet framed against the skeletons of bare trees and shattered fortifications…. his cold fingers playing Handle’s “Largo.” A British war correspondence reported that shortly after, soldiers heard a clear voice singing the beloved Christmas Carole “O Holy Night” — the singer, Victor Granier of the Paris Opera. The night watch must have lifted their eyes toward the heavens as they heard his plaintive call.
Whatever the sprit of Christmas had been before that hour, it was now — above all– the spirit of hope and of peace.
Christmas day dawned over the muddy fields and both sides cautiously picked their way through the barbed wire. Side by side, they buried their dead. A German officer known only as “Thomas” gave Lt. Hulse a Christmas gift, a Victoria Cross and a letter that had belonged to an English captain. Lt Hulse responded by giving the German officer his silk scarf. One German retrieved a photograph of himself in uniform and asked his former enemies to post it to his sister in Liverpool. Men who had shot at each other only days before gathered in a sacred service for their fallen soldiers. Prayers were offered and the 23rd psalm was read.
19-year-old Arthur Pelham Burn who hoped to study for the ministry after the war, remembered that the Germans formed up on one side and the English on the other… the officers standing in front… every head bared. “Yes, I think it is a sight,” he said, “one will never see again.”
As the Christmas of 1914 drew to a close, soldiers who had sung together, played together and prayed together returned to their trenches. They must have felt reluctant to let the common ground between them become “No Man’s Land” again.
But as the darkness fell around them, a lone voice floated across the few yards of earth on which they had stood together. In the true spirit of Christmas, one voice, then another, joined in. Soon the whole world seemed to be singing. And for a brief moment the sound of peace was a carol every soul knew by heart – “Silent Night.”
And that’s the way it was almost 100 years ago. And that’s the way it can be this season and beyond… as we embrace the message of that Silent, Holy Night.
This is the season of forgiving. We all have differences. Though we should never let our differences come between us, this is a time to put them in the past. The core and foundational spirit of Christmas is found in the very root of the word — Christ. It is He who brings such a spirit where differences are forgotten, and peace reigns.
This time of year millions of people around the world renew their faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a time for service, forgiving, and improving. Many will give up old habits and come unto the One who makes all miracles possible.
In 1926 Dr. James Allen Francis penned words that should not only be reflected upon during the Christmas season, but throughout the entire year.
“He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in still another village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was 30. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn’t go to college. He never traveled more than 200 miles from the place He was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He was only 33 when public opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. When He was dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing, the only property He had.. . . on earth. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race, the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on earth as much as that One Solitary Life.”
One life made an eternal difference for the entire human race. This year, and every year, lets reflect and improve. Lets find opportunities to serve others. If we all do our part, we can make the world a better place.
The other night my wife and I were reading scriptures, finally finishing up First Nephi (only took a month)! It’s kind of amazing to think that Joseph Smith translated the entire Book of Mormon in the same amount of time it took us to read the first book, while at the same time suffering severe persecution.
Anyways, while we were reading, there was a phrase that stood out to me that initially didn’t make sense at all.
“And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.”
“Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel.” -1Nephi 22:10-11
Make bare his arm. I had literally no clue what this metaphor meant. So I thought that I would ask my wife what her thoughts were. Her answer made complete sense!
She said that it was a sign of the Lord’s physical power, as if he were symbolically “showing off his muscles.”
I love my wife. It made me so happy to hear her explain to me in such a simple way, an answer that was not only sensible, but honest.
No matter how much we think we know about gospel topics, it never hurts to ask questions. There is always more to learn. The scriptures are full of tiny details that describe great things. All we need to do is read into them a little more.
The Lord’s arms are described in many different ways throughout the scriptures. He has power to do all things. Here is one of my favorites:
“But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.”
More than anything, God loves all of His children. That includes all of us. He wants us to be happy, and he wants us to recognize His influence in our lives. Sometimes that influence comes through others, like my sweet wife.
Keep an eye out for God. See what He does to influence your life for good.
“The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” -Isaiah 52:10
Most people know that President Abraham Lincoln is responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. But what most people don’t know is how long the process actually took.
It all began with a woman named Sarah Hale. Back in the mid 1800s, the holiday was recognized individually by each existing state. Some states celebrated in October, others in January. Sarah Hale wanted the holiday to be celebrated as a nation on the same day.
It took her 17 years, and letter to five Presidents (Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln). It was the letter to President Lincoln that persuaded him to establish the national holiday in 1863. Since President Lincoln, each president has advocated the national holiday.
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and give thanks. It is also a time where we easily lose focus on what really matters most. To emphasize my point, I found this gem this morning:
Humorous, yet true. Take some time every day to reflect and give thanks to the Source of all that you have. God has blessed all of us with more than we realize.
I’m thankful for:
A loving wife
A great family
A loving Heavenly Father
A nice apartment
A job that helps pay the bills
My friends who set great examples for me
Books to teach me new things
Movies to take me to places beyond my imagination
A working car
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God . . . I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience . . . fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore if, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.” – President Abraham Lincoln
What are you thankful for this year?
This past weekend we drove down from Rexburg, Idaho to Lehi, Utah to my in-law’s home to surprise my mother-in-law for her birthday. She was extremely happy to have all of her kids home again.
These thoughts were actually written as we drove back to Rexburg. We took my sister-in-law’s car, and the head lights weren’t very bright. When we weren’t surrounded by other cars, it was difficult to see the road in front of us, and driving through Idaho brings a threat of deer crossing the road unexpectedly.
Light is a necessity. Light helps us to see in the darkness. Light helps us to discern good from bad.
A defining characteristic of God’s glory is light.
Without light, it is difficult to function, physically and spiritually. The world we live in is full of dark places. Some people are so caught up in the darkness of it all that they don’t realize it.
We need to be more conscious of our surroundings, and put ourselves in places that are inspiring and uplifting, surrounded by others with the same qualities. I can easily feel a difference when I’m in a good place compared to when I’m in a bad place. Everyone can recognize that. Even though there is a lot of darkness in the world, there is a lot of light too.
In the end, light will always overpower the darkness.
We are not perfect. There will be difficult times in our lives that seem dark and unending. Be assured that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I take comfort in song lyrics an old friend wrote a few years back…
There is sun on the horizon,
a candle in a cave,
a little bit of color
on the next page.
There is always something better
when you look for the light
on a dark day.
Though God may seem distant from us when we feel discouraged or lost, He is closer than we believe. God’s plan for us does not conclude with failure, but with a glorious redemption to a place where the brightness exceeds all imagination and description. Until then, lets keep our lights on, and look forward to such a heaven.