A young co-worker asked me, “What is the difference between grace and mercy?” An immediate answer didn’t come to mind so I resorted to humor and replied, “Grace works on the first shift and Mercy works on the second.” Laughter and chuckles came from those within earshot because we have two ladies with those names working with us.
Later, her question came back to mind, which gave pause for me to consider the real answer. I thought about God’s grace, the free and unmerited favor that He has shown towards us as a gift. And I thought about God’s mercy, His compassionate forbearance toward us showing Him kind and forgiving, even though we deserve punishment. Surely our heavenly Father is the finest example of grace and mercy.
As I considered how grace and mercy work together, I remembered a famous event from the battlefields of World War I. It was Christmas Eve 1914, on the western front, where British and German forces faced each other in fierce fighting. The following is an excerpt from a letter written by a British soldier who was present on that night.
“I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.
“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”
And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will. And then we heard their voices raised in song.
Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . . .
This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.
When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.
The first Nowell, the angel did say . . . .
British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.
“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. In minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!
Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.
As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.”
Reflecting upon this Christmas miracle I ask myself, what could cause two opposing armies, fighting to the death, to lay down their arms and embrace each other as friends? Only grace and mercy. The same grace and mercy that first entered men’s hearts on another night more than two thousand years ago.
On that night, an Angel announced to the world through a tiny band of shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV).
Those same shepherds found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. As their weary eyes beheld Him, they witnessed the embodiment of God’s grace and mercy made flesh, and living among them, Christ Jesus!
May we follow the example of our heavenly Father, and like those British and German soldiers in the icy war-torn Belgium countryside, extend grace and mercy to all whose path we may cross. Merry Christmas!
Gene Markland / CBN