Christmas 1914

“There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter;
day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood,
and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain.
Who would imagine, as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another,
that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature,
all members of the same human society?
Who would recognize brothers,
whose Father is in Heaven?”

Pope Benedict XV

christmas-truce-wikicommons
(an artist’s impression taken form The Illustrated London News, January 1915 of British and German soldiers during the Christmas truce of 1914)

War is a funny thing.
As in it is an age old oddity.
An ugly, devastating oddity.

Since his fall from grace,
man has been engaged in a constant state of struggle.
Battling and fighting a war within himself as he wages war against all others.
Living in a constant state of destruction…
Conquering, defending, killing, invading, taking…

And yet within man’s duality of his nature…that connection between light and dark…
of both right and wrong,
of both love and hate,
of give and take,
of fair and unfair
of peace and war…
all of which seems to leave him no choice but to create a balance within the chaos
of some sense of fairness or rightness…
as if war should be, could be, conducted fairly or even oddly, justly,
Man continues to yearn for the light, the upright, the hopeful…

As man feels his way through the never ending darkness, he has learned to set parameters.
He creates rules.
Rules of engagement.
Rules of war.
Rules set by the Geneva Convention.
Rules stating that nations are to fight fairly,
as if to say…fight by the rules.

Yet all of this seems to be grossly oxymoronic…
as if war, fighting, maiming and killing could ever be fair,
or just, or right, or proper….

Yet on Christmas Day 1914 man’s conflict and inner struggle with this duality
of his imperfect balance, oddly righted itself…

That in the midst of death and insanity, the arrival of Christmas,
the coming and eventual arrival of the child whose birth brings both the gift of
hope and peace to not merely a few but rather to all mankind,
brought balance, albeit briefly, to man’s seemingly unending inner conflict…

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for
the celebration of Christmas.
The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire,
but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.

Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols
to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers
even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day,
some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the
Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues.
At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick,
but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands
with the enemy soldiers.
The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs.
There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a
good-natured game of soccer.

Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task:
the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s
land between the lines.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war
in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of
chivalry between enemies in warfare.
It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by
officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof,
however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons,
the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

During World War I, the soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate on the battlefield,
but even a world war could not destory the Christmas spirit.

History.com

“Hark the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born king.”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

Charles Wesley

Holy Waiting

“Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms,
and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting.
He is not in such a hurry as we are,
and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need
for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time.
When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God.
When action is needed,
light will come.”

― J.I. Packer

“Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty,
to carry within oneself the unanswered question,
lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.”

Elisabeth Elliot

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(The Holiness of God surrounded by Seraphim /Illuminated manuscript / Bibliotheque Nationale de France)

“Our world is shaking, about to erupt.
Demonic powers are storming the church, like autumn storms sweeping through the woods.
We live in a tine when people everywhere are agitated;
the masses are confused as to what is true and what is false;
and yet they are waiting for what is ultimately to come.
And it shall come!

We live in the midst of tyranny, encircled on all sides, seemingly unfree.
But let us lift our heads high; the hour of our liberation is drawing near.
Now we must be strong in the hope that God will reveal his redemption;
he who is coming will take away everything that is part of our fallen nature.”

In holy waiting we’re at home,
The windows open to the sun,
Though shades are spreading o’er us.
With joy expectant hearts are fed;
Till now hope’s flaming light has led
And brightly burned before us.

Eberhard Arnold
In Holy Waiting

When the Time Was Filled
Christmas Meditations
Plough House Publishing

submission

It is, perhaps, one of the hardest struggles of the Christian life to learn this sentence –
“Not unto us,
not unto us,
but unto Thy name be glory.”

– Charles Spurgeon

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(image of Mary, Illuminated Manuscript)

Jesus.
The name of our Lord and of my Order [The Society of Jesus]
shall be the first word I write in the New Year.
The name stands for all the things I desire when I pray, believe and hope;
for inner and outer redemption;
for relaxation of all the selfish tensions and limitations I place
in the way of the free dialogue with God,
all the barriers to voluntary partnership and surrender without reserve:
and for a speedy release from these horrible fetters.
The whole situation is so palpably unjust;
things I have neither done nor even known about are keeping me here in prison. ”

The name Jesus stands also for all that I intended to do in the world,
and still hope to do among mankind. To save, to stand by ready to give immediate help,
to have goodwill towards all men, and to serve them. I still owe much to so many.

And in conclusion the Order, too, is embraced in my invocation of this name–
the Order which has admitted me to its membership.
May it be personified in me.
I have pledged myself to Jesus as his loving comrade and blood-brother.

The Name stands for passionate faith, submission, selfless effort and service.

Excerpt from Fr. Alfred Delp’s diary
January 1, 1945

In 1944, at the time of Father Delp’s arrest and subsequent trial for treason against the Nazi State,
the young Jesuit’s date for his profession of his final vows as a priest had been
indefinitely postponed.
And as Hitler had decreed that no priest was to study for the priesthood,
as he had shuttered all seminaries, Delp’s friends arranged to have a priest, a confrere
with full support of the German Catholic Church, visit Delp while in prison in Berlin.
He would hear Delp’s profession and receive him fully into his order.

The visiting priest, Father Tattenbach,
knew that he had to disguise his visit as merely a sympathetic gesture offered to
a condemned prisoner.
The visit could have no whiff of official Church business as such had been long outlawed.
Nor could he let it be known what the two men were actually doing.
He also feared that the prison guards would be suspicious especially as the vows
were to be made in Latin…
he worried the guards would think that they talking in code while passing secrets.

So Fr Tattenbach explained that he was going to be praying with Fr Delp in Latin
and actually wrote out what he would be saying in German…
yet the guards remained suspicious hovering about as the two men
entered into a sacred, holy and solemn moment in time…
and oddly allowed the two men to conduct their most important “prayer session”…

To be submissive.

It is a word that is growing ever more difficult to act upon as our
society deems the act of submission to be a serious and egregious act of weakness…
Something that is to be scorned, reviled and forbidden.

The negative connotations associated with acts of submission are endless.
Particularly as the militant feminist movement has cast the word into the realm of all things taboo.
As they claim that the very word seethes with all things vile and odious in nature.

Yet throughout this season of Advent,
we are constantly reminded of what complete and utter submission looks like.
It begins in the form of Mary’s selfless, obedient and submissive willingness to play a part in God’s grand plan…
spanning the chasm of time to the Springtime reminder of that same selfless,
obedient and submissive willingness offered freely by her son as he walks from
the start of his life in that obscure stable to his destiny on Golgotha.

And thankfully there remains those few souls among us who make wide their beings…
opening and allowing for the totally emptying of self.
They forgo all aspects of their own wellbeing…
in turn allowing for the betterment of all humankind… at the cost of their own existence.
They act as our polestar.

And just as Father Delp demonstrated,
with hands chained and a noose waiting to be placed around his neck,
submission to the service of God is an act so much greater than any fettered or
tethered limitation imposed by man.

So may we, this season of Advent, learn the importance of submission…
May we be both strong and courageous as we learn to yield our hearts, minds and our very beings
to the will of the One True God…

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.
For there is no authority except from God,
and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

Romans 13:1

Awe

“The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.
Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people.”

A. W. Tozer

francoisboucher_adorationoftheshepherds
(Francois Boucher / Adoration of the Shepherds / 1750)

Awe,
Awesome,
Webster’s dictionary defines awe as mingled dread, veneration, and wonder.
English Bible translations employ the words “awe” or “awesome” almost exclusively to
refer to the person or work of God.
While the word “awe” appears only rarely in the KJV,
modern English versions such as the NASB and NIV translate as many as six
different Hebrew words and three different Greek words as “awe” or “awesome.”
The most common Hebrew word, yare [עָרִיץ aer”y], occurs in various forms over
400 times in the Old Testament, and is commonly translated “fear.”
Both the NIV and NASB, however, often render “awe”

(e.g., Exod 15:11 ; 1 Sam 12:18 ; Psalm 119:120 ; Hab 3:2 ).
(Biblestudytools.com)

To stand in Awe…
to that which is awesome, wonderful, astonishing…
to be overwhelmed in its presence,
to be full and overcome with fear by the utter greatness,
to quake and stand trembling,
to be stuck dumb as in…
to be rendered speechless…

“That kind of worship is found throughout the Bible
(though it is only fair to say that the lesser degrees of worship are found there also).
Abraham fell on his face in holy wonderment as God spoke to him.
Moses hid his face before the presence of God in the burning bush.
Paul could hardly tell whether he was in or out of the body when he was allowed
to see the unspeakable glories of the third heaven.
When John saw Jesus walking among His churches, he fell at His feet as dead.”

AW Tozer

Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants
of the world stand in awe of him!

Psalm 33:8

God Comes

“Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.”

Thomas Merton

michelangelo_caravaggio_77_nativity_with_st_francis_and_st_lawrence
(Caravaggio’s Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence / 1609 / Palermo, Italy)

“God Comes”

Pope Benedict XVI in his homily celebration of First Vespers
of the First Sunday of Advent
(Saturday, 2 December 2006)

“At the beginning of a new yearly cycle, the liturgy invites the Church to renew her
proclamation to all the peoples and sums it up in two words
‘God comes.’
These words, so concise, contain an ever new evocative power.

Let us pause a moment to reflect:
it is not used in the past tense—God has come,
nor in the future—God will come,
but in the present—‘God comes.’

At a closer look, this is a continuous present, that is, an ever-continuous action:
it happened, it is happening now and it will happen again.
In whichever moment, ‘God comes.’

The verb ‘to come’ appears here as a theological verb, indeed theological,
since it says something about God’s very nature.
Proclaiming that ‘God comes’ is equivalent, therefore, to simply announcing God himself,
through one of his essential and qualifying features: his being the God-who-comes.

Advent calls believers to become aware of this truth and to act accordingly.
It rings out as a salutary appeal in the days, weeks and months that repeat:
Awaken!
Remember that God comes!
Not yesterday,
not tomorrow,
but today,
now!

The one true God, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,’
is not a God who is there in Heaven, unconcerned with us and our history,
but he is the-God-who-comes.
He is a Father who never stops thinking of us and, in the extreme respect of our freedom,
desires to meet us and visit us;
he wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us.
His ‘coming’ is motivated by the desire to free us from evil and death,
from all that prevents our true happiness.
God comes to save us.

The Fathers of the Church observe that the ‘coming’ of God—continuous and, as it were,
co-natural with his very being—is centered in the two principal comings of Christ:
his Incarnation
and
his glorious return at the end of time…
(cf. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 15,1: PG 33, 870).

The Advent Season lives the whole of this polarity.

In the first days, the accent falls on the expectation of the Lord’s Final Coming,
as the texts of this evening’s celebration demonstrate.
With Christmas approaching, the dominant note instead is on
the commemoration of the event at Bethlehem,
so that we may recognize it as the ‘fullness of time.’

Between these two ‘manifested’ comings…
it is possible to identify a third,
which St. Bernard calls ‘intermediate’ and ‘hidden,’
and which occurs in the souls of believers and,
as it were,
builds a ‘bridge’ between the first and the last coming.”

An open and willing vessel

“I am the vessel.
The draft is God’s.
And God is the thirsty one.”

Dag Hammarskjold

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Advocata Nostra [our advocate], The oldest icon of Mary in Rome, Italy / The Dominican sisters Convert /
Its origin is traced to ancient Jerusalem and is attributed to the hand of St Luke who painted
it at the request of the Apostles )

[That]A peace would settle over the planet like a velvet coverlet drawn over a sleeping child.
The world would recollect itself and discover itself held in the womb of the Mother of God.
We would be filled with all the fullness of God,
even as we filled the emptiness of the Savior’s heart with ours.

Loretta Ross-Gotta

Trinity

“Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man,
and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.”

John Wesley

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(Illuminated manuscript of the Trinity/ The British Library)

“The incarnate one is the glorified God:
‘The Word was made flesh and we beheld his glory.’
God glorifies himself in man.
That is the ultimate secret of the Trinity.
The humanity is now taken up into the Trinity.
Not from all eternity, but ‘from now on even unto eternity;’
the trinitarian God is seen as the incarnate one.
The glorification of God in the flesh is now at the same time,
the glorification of man,
who shall have life through eternity with the trinitarian God…
God remains the incarnate one even in the Last Judgement.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer