Can you sense and feel it in the air?
Long before Christmas Day, we have a sense of its coming. By Thanksgiving Day Christmas parades children are already making out their lists of things they hope to find under the tree and each day after that it builds a little more. Days until Christmas vacation from school get counted down. Advent calendars get hung weeks before stockings get hung waiting to be filled. Cookie recipes get pulled out from family favorites long before they are baked or placed on a plate waiting for Santa to enjoy them when he pops down the chimney.
No matter how grim the headlines or steep the challenges we look for the good things we believe Christmas can bring. Even if we have no certainty a gift will be able to be purchased or a meal with all the trimmings can be managed, we look toward Christmas with optimism or at the least, hope for something better.
The Christmas gift of anticipation comes long before all these other things.
It always has! And we believe it will come because it always has. It has come in lean times and times of plenty, in times of war and times of peace. It doesn’t rely on mankind to make it happen because it is God’s gift to the world. And for a few short days we catch a sense of the gift to us, and it changes most of us, softens our edges, warms the coolness of our faith, and strengthens our awareness of God’s resolve despite us.
It’s what causes us to risk believing once again, to hang stockings that are empty with the anticipation of good gifts filling them. It was that hope of believing for something better that lays behind what happened on Christmas Eve in 1914 in the muddy trenches during WW I. It’s a story worth remembering and worth honoring.
History tells the story like this:
A member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment was shivering in the muck and trying to keep warm on Christmas Eve. Fear and sleeplessness had been his constant companions and then about 10pm that night, he began to hear a noise, a murmur of voices, coming across the field where his enemies had been firing upon them. As he listened more closely and asked a soldier about it, he became more aware that the sound drifting over the cold night air was that of the German soldiers singing carols.
And then in the darkness, some of the British soldiers began to sing back and then a shouting from the German side echoed back saying, “Come over here.” It was unthinkable to respond to the enemy’s request, but one of the British soldiers suggested he come halfway and asked them to come halfway as well.
What happened next would, in the years to come, stun the world and make history. Enemy soldiers began to climb nervously out of their trenches, and to meet in the barbed-wire-filled “No Man’s Land” that separated the armies. Normally, the British and Germans communicated across No Man’s Land with streaking bullets, with only occasional gentlemanly allowances to collect the dead unmolested. But now, there were handshakes and words of kindness. The soldiers traded songs, tobacco, and wine, joining in a spontaneous holiday party in the cold night.
Incredible? Yes, but true! And even more miraculously, it wasn’t confined to that one battlefield. Starting on Christmas Eve, small pockets of French, German, Belgian and British troops held impromptu cease-fires across the Western Front, with reports of some on the Eastern Front as well. Some accounts suggest a few of these unofficial truces remained in effect for days. It became known as the Christmas Truce.
During the horrors of that war so long ago, the anticipation of Christmas hushed the guns on the battlefield without an order ever being given and bridged “No Man’s Land” as enemies sang carols.
What could we learn from this story as we anticipate this Christmas where more division and strife pervades the world than we could have imagined, and friends and family members stand at a distance and at odds with one another over a long list of wounds, bitterness, and anger?
Could we allow the gift of anticipation to shift our focus as it did that Christmas Eve of 1914 as men laid down their arms and became just men instead of mortal enemies.
Who but God could have brought such a wondrous gift that night? Only He could have produced anticipation amid hopelessness and misery on that bloody battlefield.
But that is just like God! He offers the gifts of Christmas despite our condition, without reservation.
So long ago God gave the glimpse of that when He promised that Christmas would come, a child would be born, and would transform our sorrows and offer us hope. Those who looked for that day often wondered if it would ever come. Over time, some doubted and gave up, but for those with ears to hear continued listening and looking. They were the very same ones who would show up to greet Jesus without an engraved invitation.
They were the humble shepherds tending sheep on the hillsides to whom the angels appeared. They were the wise men who had studied the prophecies without even being a part of those who were promised this gift of a Savior. Their anticipation prepared them to hear the good news of a child born in a manger and they had to go see this for themselves.
As we consider “The Gifts of Christmas – Anticipation” and sense that anticipation this Christmas season, are we also anticipating that same One will return and keep listening and watching for that unknown date? The first Christmas did not have a fixed date on the calendar. The next one won’t either.
God has already given us the Christmas gift of anticipation and it isn’t about the presents (or lack of them) under a tree.