Chaos seems to be the dominant order of things these days. Our political processes have become mind-numbingly chaotic. We’re gridlocked. The waters of international relations, which not too long ago were hopeful, are now buffeted by the winds and waves of chaos. The Russians are rattling their sabers; the Chinese are flexing their muscles. ISIS is perfecting terror. Iran is slowly, but surely, marching its way into the family of nuclear-armed nations. Here at home, those who have been tasked with protecting us have, all too often, become militarized. We’re feeling less and less protected and more and more intimidated. And, those of us who lived through the turbulence of the 60’s have taken false comfort from the notion that the days of riots, mayhem, and looting were part of a distant, ugly past, only to have events in Ferguson disabuse us of that misguided notion.
The chaos has even hit home for Nancy and me. She’s described this as a “bittersweet” season. She’s had to watch helplessly as life has ebbed slowly and painfully from her ninety-five year old mother. Those last earthly days, which Nancy had hoped would be filled with grace and peace, didn’t appear to be part of her mother’s master plan.
On Thanksgiving morning, Nancy and I took the dogs for their morning walk. The streets of Emporia were quiet. We came home and put the turkey in the oven. Nancy’s brother¸ sister-in-law and their daughter arrived around noon. We shared a quiet Thanksgiving meal.
Then, after dinner, we went over to Presbyterian Manor to visit Nancy’s mother. We were expecting more of what we’ve been seeing for so long, but, grace has miraculously intervened. As soon as Velma saw us, she was overjoyed. Her facial expression, which had been etched in pain for weeks, now seemed happy, even childlike. The room took on the glow of everlasting life as she said her goodbyes and offered prayers of thanksgiving for the life she’d been given. She asked about her developmentally disabled son, James, whom she had taken care of until she was ninety years old. When we told her he was doing well, she beamed. “Amazing!” she exclaimed. “God’s been so good to me.”
After about an hour, we went back home, all of us feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the miraculous way that peace and grace had broken the grip of the chaos that had been our constant companion for weeks.
A couple of days ago I watched a YouTube video of a Christmas advertisement produced by Sainsbury, a large British grocery retailer. The video, which runs a bit over three minutes, can be viewed at http://youtu.be/NWF2JBb1bvM. It’s about the Christmas truce shared by British and German soldiers along the Western Front on December 24th and 25th of 1914.
The ad is based on what actually happened in 1914. It all began on the night of the 24th, when German and British soldiers spontaneously began to sing Christmas carols. The sounds carried from trench line to trench line. Then, a British soldier shouted into the darkness, “Hey Fritz, would you like some cigarettes?” Next, German soldiers offered a couple of kegs of beer to share with the British. By morning, soldiers from both sides had left the safety of their trenches. Men, who had a day earlier been mortal enemies, now smoked cigarettes and drank good German beer together. They even played an impromptu game of soccer.
In the advertisement, we are introduced to a young British solider named Jim. He’s just gotten a Christmas gift of chocolate from his wife or sweetheart. He climbs out of the trench and meets a young German soldier named Otto, who has just gotten a Christmas cookie from someone at home. They shake hands and share photos of their loved ones. The guns are silent. The gentle strains of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” play in the background. Then, the all-too-brief moments of peace end and the war resumes. The two men return to their respective trenches. Otto reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out Jim’s chocolate bar. Jim opens the small tin box that Otto has given him. It’s the Christmas cookie Otto’s loved ones had sent to him. The video ends with a simple message – “Christmas is for sharing.”
Predictably, many media critics panned the commercial, calling it a crass way to sell chocolate. But, the ad has hit a chord with the public, with over 12 million views as of this morning. The public seems to be looking for peace in the midst of chaos. I’m not sure what the media critics are looking for or promoting. Chaos, perhaps?
Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” I think that’s the message Sainsbury’s was conveying and the message we received during our brief visit with Nancy’s mother. It’s the message we all desperately need, particularly in these chaotic times.