We often talk of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” during the Christmas season, but consider that from the perspective of a young boy living in a war-torn country.
In 1944, Fritz Vincken was 12 years old. His home in Aachen, Germany had been damaged by bombs, so his father saw to it that his wife and son were safely hunkered down in a small cabin in the Ardennes. Unfortunately, the Ardennes Forest was also the place where Hitler launched a surprise attack against the Allies. We know this as the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s final effort to win the war.
It was December, and the forest was hit with brutal winter weather. Many Allied soldiers only had the summer uniforms they were wearing when they landed on D-Day. The weather was as brutal as the fighting.
Back to the Vincken family. On Christmas Eve, Fritz and his mother were inside their small cabin when there was a knock at the door. There stood three American soldiers, and one of them was wounded. Here were Germans and Americans facing each other, with only a little understanding of French between them to communicate. What Fritz and his mother learned was the soldiers were lost, one was bleeding heavily, they were hungry, and they needed to get out of the snow.
Although it was illegal to harbor the enemy, Elizabeth Vincken opened the door to them. She could’ve been executed, but it was Christmas Eve. She did what she could for the wounded soldier and began preparing a Christmas dinner for them.
That’s when there was another knock on the door, only this time it was German soldiers. They told the young boy that they were lost, hungry, and needed shelter. Fritz did what any smart 12-year-old would do: he got his mother.
Elizabeth Vincken told them they could come in, but they would have to leave their weapons outside. Oh, and there are other visitors inside that they may not like! She then informed the American soldiers what was about to happen, and they also agreed to place their weapons outside. Elizabeth Vincken said, ““It is the Holy Night,” she told them, “And there will be no shooting here.”
And that’s how a few German and American soldiers sat together over a Christmas dinner. As the night progressed, the tension in the room slowly dissolved. They sang “Silent Night” together, albeit in different languages, and they began to talk as if old friends. One of the Germans had been a medical student and tended to the needs of the wounded American.
When morning arrived, the Germans brought out a map and compass, showing the Americans how to get back to their own side. They collected their weapons, went their separate ways, and went back to the war.
But that moment was not lost on 12-year-old Fritz. Over 50 years later, Fritz Vincken said, “Many years have gone since that bloodiest of all wars, but the memories of that night in the Ardennes never left me. The inner strength of a single woman, who, by her wits and intuition, prevented potential bloodshed, taught me the practical meaning of the words: ‘Goodwill Toward Mankind.’” [Source]
We love stories like that. I’ve previously shared a similar story—“The Christmas Truce”—but as heartwarming as these stories are, they don’t speak of lasting peace. What happened in the Vincken cabin in 1944 was an uneasy peace. War resumed the next day.
Many of us experience the same type of peace during Christmas. People want their families to get together, but they know they must walk on eggshells when everyone is under the same roof. Don’t talk politics. Don’t make jokes about Uncle Murray’s hair loss. Don’t force the sullen teenager in the group to … well, do anything. And go easy on the talk about Jesus!
At best, we hope for a few peaceful days together. But it’s an uneasy peace. Lying underneath are layers of insecurity, bitterness, or animosity toward some in the family. That’s why Christmas is not a favorite time of year for some. For some, a Christmas tradition includes a family fight.
Over all this uneasy peace is the narrative of Christ’s birth. God the Son come to earth to bring us back to the Father. He came to remove the sin and bring us to a peace-filled relationship with Him. What Jesus came to do—and what He still offers us today—is no uneasy peace. It is a true peace, grounded in forgiveness and freedom from that which separates us from God.
When we’re at peace with God, we are in the best position to pursue peace with others.
“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace always in every way” (2 Thess. 3:16).
“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).
“Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts” (Col. 3:14-15).
I hope your Christmas is a peace-filled Christmas.
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Thanks for an inspiring story.