To Battle We Go: The Christmas Truce of 1914

Feb 22, 2024 | by Dr. Steve Kellner

To Battle We Go: The Christmas Truce of 1914


By: Dr. Steve Kellner

I'm writing this a few days after Christmas, and that brings to mind perhaps the most famous Christmas story in military history, the Christmas Truce of 1914. World War I had begun in August of 1914, but already in those few months between summer and Christmas the death and destruction wrought by the war had eclipsed anything previously known. Casualties on just the Western Front of the war exceeded two million, with more than a half million deaths, and Eastern Front casualty figures were nearly as catastrophic.

The savage ferocity of the fighting that fall is what made the Christmas Truce so completely unforeseen and miraculous. On Christmas Eve, British troops in some combat sectors noticed German soldiers placing lighted candles along their trench lines and heard them singing Christmas carols. The Brits responded by singing their own carols, and this continued well into the night. A few brave souls from both sides crawled out of the trenches through the darkness and across no man's land to exchange Christmas greetings with the other side.

At dawn on Christmas morning that dribble of individual soldiers became a flood as thousands of troops from both sides crawled "over the top" unarmed (!) under flags of truce and met between the trench lines to shake hands, sing carols, and exchange gifts of rations and souvenirs. One memorable photo from that day shows an impromptu soccer match between the opposing sides. As the sun set everyone returned to their respective trenches and resumed the grisly business of war.

Military historians are still debating why the truce broke out when it did, but Christians should have no doubt about the cause. When we reflect on the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ, at Christmas or any other time of the year, peace, brotherly love, and unity will spontaneously break out, even in the worst of situations and conditions. It happened during the Christmas Truce even between bitter enemies who had been completely determined to kill each other only a day before.

Focusing on Jesus and our mission to spread His Gospel and serve others is what makes it possible for Salvationists to overcome any discord or bitterness within our corps fellowship caused by everyday hurts and disagreements. There are no problems between us that cannot be resolved by the presence of Jesus.

This overcoming love for one another is what the Bible says is so noticeable to a world sorely lacking in peace, brotherly love, and unity. And this love extends even to those who appear to be our enemies, be they spiritual, cultural or, dare I say it, political. The tendency nowadays is to vilify our opponents, but we fight against powers and principalities, not against flesh. God's love as expressed through the gift of His Son extends to everyone, and so should ours.

So, let's light the candles, sing the carols, and see what happens!

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