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The Christmas Truce

Last week we went to a Christmas Concert, which included the first performance of a piece of music called The Christmas Truce. I found it moving and thought provoking, woven as it is around ‘poeticised’ eyewitness accounts from 1914 newspapers and carols sung in German and English. The composer Judith Bingham wrote in the programme:

The RAF officer, RJ Fairhead, observed after the Second World War that if the soldiers along the western front in 1914 had refused to go back to fighting after the Christmas Truce, the Second World War, with its loss of millions of lives, would never have happened. The Christmas Truce seemed to be a pivotal moment of opportunity for the western world, and yet most soldiers went back to fighting afterwards. One man described it as “nothing more than the interval in a boxing match,” indeed the ‘friendly’ truce activities were inspired by competition and conflict, such as football matches (the Germans winning, generally) and chasing rabbits and hares.

I found myself thinking about the Christmas Truces that happen in offices, factories, communities and homes.  (I found myself thinking about Christmas Truces that don't happen in these places too.)  I found myself wondering why the peace of Christmas gives way so quickly to ‘business as usual’.  Is there, for example, a spirit of “competition and conflict” in our hearts even as we lay down our arms at Christmastide?

I wondered whether it would it be possible for Christians to find ways in which to grasp this annual “pivotal moment of opportunity” to change the atmosphere in the places and networks we frequent, into January, February, March …?  What an impossible challenge.  Impossible; but Judith Bingham goes on:

Yet it is hard to get away from an overwhelming feeling of wonder and compassion when reading about the Truce. The fact that Christ's birth itself took place in a hostile and dangerous setting somehow imbues the Truce with a sense of the miraculous, of Godly intervention.

We may be daunted, seeing the risk, vulnerability and possible ultimate sacrifice associated with being trucemakers, workers for shalom, yet Christmas reminds us of the power of Godly intervention as well as its utterly humble nature.

Bingham's composition uses the haunting theme of Stainer's music to Wesley's Advent hymn, near the beginning and again as its conclusion.  Here, surely, is the answer:

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.

And, Lord, be born in us today.

Happy Christ-mass.

Peter Nicholls

Look out for news of January and Lent courses in the next newsletter early in the New Year.

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