It’s been 105 years since the start of World War I. The soldiers who fought in that internecine conflict thought it would be over by Christmas. Little did they know that the carnage would rage for four bloody years. In December 1914, the war unofficially stopped when troops on the Western Front initiated what history would call the Christmas Truce of 1914. What occurred then was truly a miracle. Hardened soldiers, inspired by their Christian faith, put down their arms to show peace and goodwill to their enemies. Sadly, the powers that be wanted to continue the war, and the shooting resumed shortly thereafter. That truce, while it lasted, was a veritable act of magnanimity.
My ancestors were in that terrible conflict. In August 1914, my German great uncle Karl Seidel fought at the battle of Tannenberg. While patrolling the swampy terrain, he stumbled into quicksand. Unable to free himself as he slowly sank into the deadly morass, he found himself staring down the barrels of two Russian soldiers who stumbled upon his location. Trapped, he feared the worst. He closed his eyes and prepared himself to be blasted into oblivion. However, to his great surprise, the two Russians turned their rifles around and proceeded to pull him out of the quagmire. The Russians not only spared his life, they released him instead of taking him prisoner. My uncle never forgot the act of true kindness and mercy those two men showed him. He survived the war to tell the tale. My hope is that his story and others like it will edify and serve as a testament to how even enemies can show love and mercy to one another even in the midst of war. The names of those peacemakers are now lost to history, yet the most likely source of their benevolent actions continues to echo throughout time: Luke 2:14“ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”