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I found an almost unbelievable demonstration of how the Christmas spirit comes and goes in a story told to Pastor Stuart Briscoe years ago by an old German man.

He fought with the German forces in the First World War. In those days, battles were not high tech but hand-to-hand trench warfare. Soldiers lived, fought, and died in trenches full of mud and blood and pests. In the trenches dug in the fields of France, enemies could actually hear each other talking. They didn’t need satellites to locate the enemy. The enemy was just a few yards away.

This old soldier told about how on one cold, moonlit Christmas Eve, he huddled in the bottom of the trench. Because of the annual Christmas truce, the fighting had stopped. Suddenly, from the British trenches, a loud, sweet tenor voice began to sing “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” and the sound floated up into the clear, moonlit air.

Then he said something surprising from the German trenches, a rich baritone voice tuned in, singing the same song in his native language. For a few moments, everybody in both trenches concentrated on the sound of these two invisible singers and the beautiful music and the harmony. The British soldier and the German soldier sang praise to the Lord who was their shepherd. The singing stopped, and the sound slowly died away.

“We huddled in the bottom of our trenches and tried to keep warm until Christmas Day dawned,” he said. “Early on Christmas morning, some of the British soldiers climbed out of their trenches into the no man’s land, carrying a soccer ball.” These English soldiers started kicking around a football, in a pickup game in no man’s land, between the trenches.

Then the old man said, “Some of the German soldiers climbed out, and England played Germany at football in no man’s land on Christmas Day in the middle of the battlefield in France in the First World War.” (England won.)

Then he said, “The next morning, the carnage began again, with machine guns and bayonet fighting. Everything was back to normal.”

Citation: Stuart Briscoe, “Christmas 365 Days a Year,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 135.