The Christmas Truce (Hallam FC carol service address)
December 23, 2013
I think a football club is a great place to sing carols. Getting together with other people to sing is one of life’s great pleasures, which these days has become eclipsed by other, more hi-tech modes of entertainment. And if you think about it, apart from church, the football stands are probably the other main place where people regularly get together and sing. So it’s good to be here.
And being here makes me wonder: what would you say was the greatest, most significant football match of all time? England v West Germany 1966? Brazil v Italy, 1982? Or what about the historic encounter between Hallam FC and Sheffield FC on Boxing Day 1860 – the report in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph is the first evidence of football being played on this site. You’ll be please to know that, according to the match report, ” no serious accidents occurred, and the game was conducted with good temper and in a friendly spirit” – and would that we could say the same of Premier League football today!
Or there again, perhaps the most significant football match of all time was played in Ypres, Belgium on Christmas Day 1914. It was there in the cold and the mud and the misery of trench warfare, that ordinary men, ordinary footsoldiers climbed out of the trenches and declared peace for a day – the extraordinary story remembered in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem we heard earlier. They sang carols. They shared gifts of food and cigarettes. And they played a game of football. It was good to hear that the Premier League has recently paid for a state of the art football stadium in Ypres, to commemorate that match, and to enable young people to learn something from our terrible shared history of conflict in Europe over the last century.
Sharing a drink. Kicking a ball around. Making music together. Such simple human things, simple expressions of what it is for human beings to live peaceably together. On Christmas Day 1914, those men said “no” to the inhumanity of this global war between ageing and failing empires, and for twenty-four hours, they lived as though peace on earth was a present reality.
And what enabled them to do this? It was the Christian message of the birth of a saviour, a message that those soldiers best understood through song, through carols whose words and melody become part of our bloodstream, carols whose beauty lies in their familiarity, their association with early memories of family, home, contentment. Singing the Christian story of a silent, holy night, was what encouraged the soldiers to put their guns down. The songs of Christmas reminded them what being human is really about.
And of course that is still the heart of the Christmas message. It’s about being human, about a God who shares our humanity in Jesus, not by assuming a position of earthly power, but by being born into a poor peasant family, for whom life is risky and vulnerable. It’s certainly counter-intuitive. After all the waiting and expectancy, the hopes and dreams of the prophets, we might have expected something a little more showy or spectacular. But this is the God who stands with the poor and needy, whose ways are expressed in gentleness and peace. So this Christmas let’s forget all the pressures to define ourselves by what we achieve, by how we shop, by how we measure up. Let the simplicity of the child in the stable remind you how human life is meant to be lived. Sing a carol. Share a meal. Play a game. Like the soldiers of the Christmas Truce, we can make peace on earth begin.
Frances Eccleston December 2014