On Dec. 24, 1914, small Christmas trees and lanterns appeared on the parapets of the muddy Ger-man trenches of the western front.
In the darkness, voices of scared and homesick young men joined in the prayerful strains of “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht.”
A few hundred yards away, across barbed wire and no-man’s land, British soldiers in their own soggy ditches responded with “Joy to the World.”
Down the line, on their own soil but just as forlorn as the others, French soldiers caroled their “O peuple fidèle.”
An English soldier heard a voice from the other side shout “Tomorrow, you no shoot and we no shoot.”
And they didn’t shoot along many sections of the front on that Christmas Day.
Instead, they observed an informal truce, meeting in the middle, talking, joking, exchanging sweets, cigarettes and drinks.
They took the time to clean up, bury their dead and even have a friendly football kickabout.
It only lasted a day-and-a-half before commanders on both sides ordered an end to the “comfort and joy,” and pressed the men back into conflict.
But why did it happen at all? How could these men be trying to kill each other one day and then em-bracing one another the next?
Perhaps it was because those trenches were so close. Hearing one another gave flesh and blood to the foe — an enemy just as scared, just as lonely, just as fragile.
Maybe, in the middle of that miserable French winter, far from the warmth of hearth and kin, just one night, “calm and bright” is what they all yearned for.
But how, in all this blood and death, could they ever feel “faithful, joyful and triumphant”?
Maybe, for the first time, they really understood the words the Brits sang: “Let every heart prepare Him room.”
That’s what they did that Christmas Eve — prepared Him room by letting go of their fears, their an-imosity, their lethal self-survival.
We sing those same lyrics a century later, but can we hear them as those soldiers did? Can we prepare Him room?
We go to great efforts for that Hallmark Christmas — perfect gifts, kitchen miracles and holiday par-ties, but that’s the easy part.
Can we do the hard work of making space? Can we surrender those things that clutter our everyday hearts — the righteous anger, the long-held hurt, the petty grievance?
The Talmud says, “God requires the heart.” I’m pretty sure this means our whole heart.