His name was Joseph and he was far away from home.
It was a few day before Christmas and he was so tired, down to his bones. And hungry. When did he last eat? Certainly nothing even warmed up for several days. But the worst was being so wet, and so cold. Oh, and also so filthy. He was way past getting used to smelling himself. The fact was, he could not remember ever feeling more miserable.
And then, a miracle. Well, almost a miracle. For the first time in weeks the clouds parted and he could see the stars. Clear, and bright this night, instead of shining through the haze of smoke and fog like usual. Joseph could easily see around himself now, and saw what he knew to be true – that he was not alone. He could see the others sleeping, allowing this connection with them to warm him for a moment.
And then Joseph heard something; something he had not heard in weeks, maybe months. He heard…nothing. For the first time since he could remember, the night sounds were not filled with the screams of shells, the staccato of machine gun fire, the moans of the wounded and despairing. Not even the rats that shared their stinking trench seemed to be stirring. Just the sound of nothing.
But Joseph knew better than to be fooled into laziness by that silence. Just fifty yards away, across an ugly stretch of land filled with bomb holes and barbed wire and mines and poison, there were the fighting forces of the enemy, in their own trenches, also waiting for order to either attack or defend that day. Again and again, over and over.
You see, this was almost 100 years ago in the fields and hills of western France, once-beautiful but now-destroyed and terrible. Joseph was soldier in an infantry unit from America sent to this foreign war to help the fight against bullies and cruelty.
Joseph did not want to die here, so far away from home, but he was not afraid of death. When he was much younger, he had prayed to give his life for God and become a Christian. He knew that for him to keep living meant that he could help others to know about Jesus, but to die and actually BE with Jesus was even better. And if he were going to die here in this war, he knew he would just leave that cold, wet, miserable body and be with Jesus right away. That hope that he shared was helpful to many of his buddies in his unit who were sad and lonely.
Joseph was overcome with an impulse that he knew was not a good idea. His officers would have a fit, but an urge grew up inside him as he saw the brightness of the stars’ light and heard the nothingness all around him. A song rose in his heart, and he thought if he could just sing it, things might be just a little better for a while. Maybe just softly enough that not many others would even hear him.
Silent night, Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
After finishing singing, Joseph wanted to sing another verse, but he couldn’t remember any of the words, so he sat quietly for a moment. Then he heard something that amazed him. Other soldiers around him, his buddies, started singing the song again, and this time others joined in, and like a row of dominoes that extends in both directions on and on and on. A giant wave of song swept over that terrible place – not a loud, thundering sound, but a deep echo of music.
But the singing had not been a good idea after all. The enemy, across the way, was on the move. The soldiers were used to those sounds of preparation for movement that came before an attack, the stirring of bodies and equipment. But an attack did not come. Instead there was an attack of music, as the enemy soldiers picked up where the Americans had left off and began to sing the very same song in their own language.
Stille nacht, Heilige nacht. Alles schläft, einsam wacht.
As the music died away, Joseph knew that for the first time, and maybe for only tonight, there would be…peace.
When we hear about something called the spirit of Christmas, that usually means a feeling of love and peace that seems to happen only this time of year. People decide to stop bickering and fighting and even mail greeting cards to people they haven’t spoken to in years.
But for a Christian, the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of Jesus Christ Himself, the Holy Spirit, who live inside of us. We have that spirit of joy and peace and love all year long...
because of Jesus.