Just before Christmas, my husband and I went to a theatre production. At least, I called it a theatre production. I said it was a play, before we went. Someone had told us about it, because I had preached Advent 1 and used an illustration from the 1914 Christmas Eve Truce. She said, "You have to see this."
So two nights before Christmas Eve, we went to the final performance is "All is Calm."
Except that it wasn't a play, really. It was all music: all music from the war, and from Christmas, sung by nine men from a well-known local vocal ensemble.
The performance took place in an historic theatre downtown here. We sat up in the balcony; the theatre was packed. I wondered if there had ever been vaudeville performances in this place, long ago. I had a little chat with the woman who sat next to me. She was a teacher. The lights went down.
Nine men began singing, Christmas carols at first, and then: songs from the war: Happy songs, sad songs, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", "Keep the Home Fires Burning," "Pack up your Troubles." The songs were interspersed with readings: Letters home from soldiers, for the most part; the names of the soldiers were read at the end of each reading.
Then the songs shifted, as Christmas neared. The letters spoke of singing in the trenches, and how the trenches were so close that they could shout across the trenches to one another.
The British soldiers started singing a bawdy Christmas song, with a rousing chorus of "O Tidings of Comfort and Joy."
And then, the strains of "O Tannenbaum."
A french soldier spoke of coming to the front that Christmas eve, hearing the hymn with the sound of gunfire.
"Poor little God of love," he wrote, "Born on this night. How could you ever have loved mankind?"
The German troops spoke of putting trees in their trenches; the enemy did not know what the lights were.
British soldiers recalled hearing the Germans' singing "Stille Nacht" as the greatest moment of their lives.
They read the letters, letters that spoke of singing, and courage, and grief.
They created peace, brief as a candle, but the troops themselves created peace, from the bottom up.
And we wept.
It was holy, holy as church, brief as a candle.
They sang, "Stille Nacht," and we wept.