EDITORIAL: The ghost of a cease-fire past

Connoisseurs of irony can delight in the fact that, in famously under-churched Seattle, plenty of apparently extraneous gifts are leaving the stores. They're scenes that have little to do with the true spirit of Christmas.

But dedicated ironists might consider, in the spirit of the season, look at our culture wars and then partake in a cease-fire.

Today is the winter solstice, the year's shortest day. Today the earth pivots toward the sun and we begin the long march toward summer, an event celebrated by ancient and modern pagans alike. On Sunday Christians will commemorate the birth of Jesus and the star of Bethlehem that declared the good news. On the same day the Jewish world will observe the first day of Hanukkah in memory of the menorah that burned for eight days on a day's worth of oil.

All three occasions reflect the sacredness of light and humanity's longing, in the face of mystery, for meaning. To that end we would do well to pause and look back to something that happened in 1914.

On the first Christmas of the Great War, British, French, German and Austrian soldiers lay down their arms all along the Western Front and gathered in the No Man's Land to exchange gifts, play soccer and sing carols.

It was an unplanned, spontaneous showing of peace. The last participant in that legendary event, a Scotsman named Alfred Anderson, died in November at 109.

"I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence," Anderson told a British reporter last year. Doubled fists, in that silence, relaxed into open palms, an earthly manifestation of the Sermon on the Mount.

The power elites in the European capitals crushed the revolt, for that's what it was, with iron fists. We know the rest of the story. But the cease-fire really happened. It was tantamount to Christ overturning the moneychangers' table in the Temple.

"It is one thing to introduce a new doctrine into the world," wrote Kierkegaard, "it is another thing to live it."

For one brief shining moment, along the Western Front, business as usual took a holiday. The truce marked a Christmas miracle on earth that affords us an enduring glimpse of life's possibilities.

When we look around Southeast Seattle and see so many good people working selflessly for the community, or just going about their lives, we recall the Jewish injunction to repair the world and Christ's admonition to love one's neighbor.

It's not always easy, but the possibility is always there, always with us, like the silence heard along the Western Front that Christmas day all those years ago.

We wish you, dear reader, the very best during this season of light.

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