St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle
Christmas Eve Communion 2014: The Christmas Truce
This evening I want to remind you of something very remarkable that happened exactly 100 years ago to this day. The world was at five months into an armed conflict that ended the lives of fifteen million people. On the western front German, British, and French were dug into trenches. It was cold and wet. The conflict was slow and bloody. Unexpected and spontaneous German troops held small fir trees up out of the trenches with signs, “Merry Christmas.” A shout came out of the damp and freezing soil. “You no shoot, we no shoot.” The slowly thousands of troops streamed across no-man’s land that was strewn with rotting corpses. Weapons were laid aside. The soldiers shook hands. Names and faces were acknowledged. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged photographs of loved ones back home, exchanged presents, shared rations, and played football. Soldiers embraced men they had been trying to kill a few short hours before. Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more sombre task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow men that had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines. Peace for a few hours.
Captain Chater (serving with the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders) describes the scene in this note to his mother:
“I think I have seen today one of the most extraordinary sights that anyone has ever seen. I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trench and came towards ours. We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles, so one of our men went to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas.“
For a few hours there was peace. The story of the Christmas truce.
The Church through this Eucharist speaks to us of the peace and light and hope that we find in Christ. The birth of Christ – has changed our world forever. We are called by Him to live in Peace and Love and to share those gifts with others. We live we with imperfection. There may be few of us here tonight that would not want the world to be a little different, better, fairer, more loving and more peaceful. It was the Christmas story that brought these soldiers together. The story offers us a glimpse of the world as we wish it could be – that meanness, conflict, retribution and discord need not be the final words. Christmas and its love in demonstrated by those soldiers is like hearing that our deepest wishes really are true: against all odds the world can be different. This is God’s gift: we are asked to respond for the sake of an enduring humanity where all flourish.
We shall now hear a verse of Silent Night that was sung by Germans and English across the divide. As we listen in the light of this story let us pray for peace in our troubled world. And in this hope we pray too that you and I may be peace bearers and peace makers this evening and every possible beating hour of our lives.
Canon James Woodward