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War At Christmas

“Christmas Truce” from the Illustrated London News, Jan 9, 1915 by A. C. Michael.

Such a disturbing phrase, “War at Christmas.” Our holiday season is sobered by news and images of immeasurable suffering in Israel and Gaza. Appearing just below these are headlines of the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Sudan. Almost forgotten but severe are the enduring conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

Who is most suffering as a result? Reputable analysis concludes that 74 to 90 percent of modern wars deaths are civilians. In the Iraq war, for example, figures from 2003 to 2013 indicate that of 174,000 casualties only 39,900 were combatants. Who were these other 134,100 civilians? Women and their children. What caused their deaths? Famine and infectious disease.

Warfare of course has afflicted humankind for millennia. Christ Jesus himself was born into a nation under military occupation. His parents were forced to migrate when mother Mary’s contractions began. And immediately thereafter, under threat of violence from the ruler, his family fled to another nation.

Given the history of humanity, War at Christmas seems inevitable. Yet Christ, the Prince of Peace, implores us:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. ~ Luke 6:27-31

Impossible to obey? History says otherwise. On Christmas Eve 1914, as depicted in this painting, a widespread spontaneous truce was declared among the weary soldiers of the First World War along the Western and Eastern fronts in Europe. The soldiers exchanged handshakes and gifts of food, drink, and clothing.

War at Christmas is not inevitable, especially when our work throughout the year for justice and reconciliation continues unabated. May our peacemaking in 2024 be redoubled by sincerity, humility and generosity – modeled by the Prince of Peace.

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