Preached by Rev’d Emma Pennington at Midnight Mass at Horspath 2014
On this night 100 years ago in 1914, a remarkable series of events occurred along the Western Front. No one is sure how it started. One soldier, Albert Moren of the 2nd Queen’s Regiment near La Chapelle d’Armentieres later remembered that the ‘performance’ began after dark. ‘It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and…..there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and then there were those lights – I don’t know what they were. And then they sang ‘Silent Night’ – ‘Stille Nacht’. I shall never forget it. It was one of the highlights of my life.’
The stories of the Christmas truce of 1914 have long been a glimmering light within the horrific darkness of the events of First World War. Soldiers on both sides of No Man’s Land realised that they were looking on the faces of themselves, disillusioned by a battle that was going nowhere. So on Christmas Eve they tentatively called out ‘You no shoot, we no shoot’ and crossed over into one another’s trenches to share cigarettes, pictures of their family and a game of football.
What was it that triggered this most remarkable of truces to occur: a desperate wish to continue the traditions of Christmas, even in the hell hole of the trenches; the triumph of the human spirit; a subversive act of rebellion; the song of the angels being heard in that black night? Sadly, this spontaneous peace lasted at most only a couple of days. The High Commands on both sides demanded a return to action and a clamp down on discipline, but also sporadic acts of violence among the soldiers themselves forced the lines to be drawn up once again and the fighting to continue. The truce was never going to have held: the French and Belgians could not concede the lost territory and the British had national obligations to its allies. The Germans could not give its seizures back without risking the collapse of their regime and the men were under military command. All were locked into a cycle of events and behaviour that it was impossible to be released from. The following year, Christmas 1915, no such slackness was allowed in discipline and the English Generals ensured that artillery bombardment continued throughout the night and following day.
On this Christmas night 100 years later as we remember the events of that night which echoed the song of the angels and reflected back however dimly the light of Christ shining in the darkness, let us once again seek to hear and receive the truth of the Word made Flesh; to look to the one who calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light and accept the gift he gives of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Amen.