It was World War I, and the entire world was in turmoil. The Germans had invaded Belgium, and were close to conquering it completely. There was just one small area that continued to resist the invaders: Diksmijde. And this one tiny area would continue to resist until the end of the war.
And just how could this tiny, nearly defeated country stand up to the German war-engine? Simple: The Belgian army opened the dike and flooded the area between the river Ijzer and the old rail-road in Diksmijde. And there they sat, the Belgians on the side by the hill, and the German army on the lower side, separated by the flood waters of the River Ijzer. And there they would remain, playing cat and mouse, for the remainder of the war.
Only once did the attitude of hatred that so prevailed during those days change. It was Christmas Eve, 1914. Far from home and missing their families, the German soldiers began singing Christmas carols. It wasn’t long before the Belgians joined in with their own religious songs. Something broke in the hearts of the soldiers that night, for on the next day, Christmas Day, instead of the usual bullet exchange, chocolates and cigarettes could be seen sailing across the icy Ijzer.
This display of good will even extended into the day after Christmas, December 26th. At 2:30 in the afternoon, a German officer named John William Anderson walked straight towards the Hoge Brug, the only bridge separating the Germans from the Belgians. He had his orderly with him, and he was carrying a golden receptacle. It was the same vessel in which the Eucharistic host is carried during Belgian processions. The Germans had found it in one of the abandoned cellars of the Sisters of St. Vincent, and had confiscated it sometime earlier, but now the German officer made it clear to the Belgian soldiers that he wanted to return this prized possession to the Belgian people as a token of reconciliation and peace. The vessel was then placed in a gunny sack and pulled to the Belgian side via a rope.
Would peace finally reign over this small region of Flanders, Belgium? Would forgiveness become the priority of both sides?
It seemed that way for a little while. But then someone started shooting and war resumed its course. However, encouraged by the golden vessel, a commemoration of Jesus’ time on this planet, these soldiers briefly experienced the miracle of forgiveness.
Christmas will do this to people. Unfortunately we forget all too quickly the wonders of that day. More often than not we find ourselves either feeling unforgiven, or in a constant loop of unforgiveness: “He fired the first shot! He deserves to be shot at!”
Our actions weigh on us, however, especially if these actions result in people being hurt!
That’s how a woman felt when she was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus to be stoned. This is what the customary verdict was in those days, and I can just imagine her shivering is shame, regretting the decision that brought her to the very doorsteps of execution. Everyone was eying her with hatred, and the only words she could hear were: “Despicable!” “Shameful!” “Sinner!” “She deserves to die!”
There was no accusation from the mouth of Jesus, however. Instead He bent down and began writing on the ground with His finger. When the angry mob pestered Jesus for a reaction, He straightened up, and looking them directly in the eye, He calmly stated: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7 NIV) Then he again lowered himself to the ground and continued writing in the dirt.
I wonder what he wrote on that day, for it certainly made an impact on the woman’s accusers! One by one they quickly left! And when Jesus finally stood back up, he asked the accused woman: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10 NIV)
Shaking the woman answered: “No one, sir.” (John 8:11 NIV)
The woman would always remember the amazing words that Jesus uttered next: “Then neither do I condemn you. . . Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11 NIV)
There is no condemnation in Christ! Our part is to simply go and leave our lives of sin!
I wish these soldiers around the Ijzer would have remembered that event in Jesus’ life. The war would have been over! But it’s not too late for us. Will we accept Jesus’ forgiveness? No matter how horrible our actions have been in the past, Jesus is willing to forgive. That’s how great His love is towards each one of us! Nothing will stop Him from loving us. Nothing!
What will be our reaction towards such a love? Do we accept the forgiveness and forgive in turn? Or do we prefer to take up our weapons and shoot at one another again?
With this reaction, only one thing is guaranteed: Someone will eventually fall!
What if that someone is you?
(To access the entire “Christmas: A Message of Forgiveness” devotional series, please click here.)