In the midst of the First World War, during Christmas 1914, something happened that challenges us all in our own difficult times and brings perspective.
The soldiers who had been killing each other put their guns down. They ventured out into ‘no-mans land’, shook hands, played football and sang some Christmas carols. Despite orders to continue shooting, the unofficial truce spread across the front lines. This was the time where peace and hope shone into the darkness; this was the moment when enemies overcame their human issues, and responded to the feeling and sentiment of Christmas Day.
That Christmas contained a moment which continues to be talked about today, 100 years on. The Christmas truce was a powerful, miraculous moment of great kindness where heroism took place in a combat situation and where soldiers could reveal unguarded gestures of rare humanity to the very people trying to kill them. Essentially, it was a time when soldiers began to humanise their enemy.
The enduring legacy of the truce is looked upon today as a wonderful example of humanity during a dreadfully dark hour of man’s history. Two nations hating each other as foes, and vowing eternal hate on the other, could, on Christmas Day, lay down their arms and wish each other happiness. For those few precious moments there was “peace on earth, goodwill towards men” on the battlefield! All because the focus was on Christmas! There’s something about Christmas which can change people.
Sadly, the soldiers were eventually ordered to return to their hostilities. However, thanks to the sacrifice of so many, in this year of 2014 we are not under such orders. Rather, we have the freedom to live the Christian life to the full. This Christmas, therefore, let us leave our defended positions and, following the example of the soldiers in 1914, meet those we might consider to be our enemies, exchange greetings and make peace. We do this not because of the actions of those soldiers 100 years ago but because of the actions of God more than 2,000 years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, as He came to us, at great cost, to bring reconciliation and peace, joy and hope, life and light. He came to us not just to bring change for one day, but for the whole of our lives. If we could find it in our hearts to celebrate the Spirit and Hope of Christmas every day of the year, rather than just one, the world would be a far better place.
If, for whatever reason, you feel you are stuck in a ‘trench’ this Christmas can you remember the wonderful example of humanity during a dreadfully dark hour of man’s history? Can you leave your defended position and bring reconciliation, peace, joy, hope, life and light to others this Christmas? Can you leave the trench and then live differently? Peace and hope can shine in the darkness. There’s something about Christmas that can change people.
Wishing you all a peaceful, happy and blessed Christmas, and every good wish for 2015.
Very Rev Dr William Morton
Dean of Derry