Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)

"Peace I leave you. My peace I give you, but not as the world gives it do I give it." (John 14:27)

Joyeux Noel (2005) is an Academy-Award-nominated movie (for best foreign language film) that tells the legendary story of the 1914 World War I Christmas Truce.

This is a different kind of Christmas movie - and one of only a few films that reminds us that, at this time of year, we are not just awaiting a child in a manger or Santa Claus, but the advent of the Prince of Peace.

The film chronicles the miracle on the battlefield by telling the story through the eyes of three lieutinants, one French, one German, and one Scottish, a compassionate Scottish priest, and a young couple from the Austrian opera now thrown into battle. In the bloody experience of World War I, these individuals make the bold move to silence their weapons for Christmas night.

In the quiet of the Western Front, though, a sound is heard that rivals all others - the gentle melodies of "Stille Nacht" ("Silent Night") and "Adeste Fideles" ("O Come All Ye Faithful"), two familar Christmas songs known by the French, the Scottish, and the Germans alike. This musical exchange leads the troops out of their trenches - and into No Man's Land, that barren wasteland that seperates the soldiers.

The men, once enemies, now see each other face to face - and realize that all the hatred, prejudice, and divisiveness is foolish in the face of the "heavenly peace" sung about in song, written about in Scripture, and proclaimed by all who call themselves Christian.

The story of Joyeux Noel is so very necessary for the world today, still at war, still locked in bitterness, and still gravely polarized (perhaps even more so in this age than in any other). We are sharply divided on issues, politics, religion, and lifestyle more than on European nationalities, but the same challenge awaits us this Christmas as it did a century ago in World War I.

When Christ spoke of peace, he said "Peace I leave you. My peace I give you, but not as the world gives it do I give it." (John 14:27). The world gives peace many other names: tolerance at its best and segregation and dismissal at its worst. For some, like Jesus' own Jewish followers, it would be peace enough if those who disagreed with us would just go away.

Leave my country. Leave my church. Leave me alone. (or if not, convert to my way of seeing things. period.) That is the peace as the world gives it. But that is not the peace Jesus promises. That is not "a peace beyond all understanding," as St. Paul puts it (Phillipians 4:7).

The peace of Joyeux Noel, and of that 1914 Christmas Truce, is looking one's opponent in the eye and seeing them as a human being, not the sum total of their beliefs, traits, or sins. It is loving one's enemy more than one's self. That is a glimpse of the peace Christ promises us.

Sadly, the peace showcased in this movie was quickly snuffed out. Those preoccupied by their own shortsightedness are swift in their dismissal of this peace. Righteousness, nationalism, and victory are more important than the "peace beyond all understanding."

When Christ comes to us this Christmas, where will he find our hearts and minds? Will we be prophets of true peace and unconditional love of others, including those with whom we disagree? Or will we be consummed by the violence, bitterness, and anger that marks our world today? Let us pray that we may be like those soldiers in Joyeux Noel and work towards lasting peace, no matter the consequences.

Merry Christmas and a Blessed, Peaceful New Year!

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