The Prince of Peace
Have you seen the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert for 2014? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM)
Made in partnership with the British Royal Legion, it is one of the most moving pieces of cinematography I have ever seen. The story opens on Christmas eve 1914, in the trenches in Europe. We see the German and Allied soldiers sitting in the cold and damp. Then we hear the German soldiers begin to silent ‘Silent night’ and as they sing the song is also taken up in English on the opposing lines.
As a child I remember my grandfather telling me stories of the impromptu truces that happened on Christmas eve along the trenches. Not because of any orders from the generals but because Christmas eve was sacred to the men fighting. On Christmas eve they chose to not kill.
We know from letters and diaries, that there were some temporary truces up and down the line on Christmas eve 1914 and during the war on future Christmas eves, until the British authorities ordered them to be stopped (as they undermined the war effort).
The propaganda around wars always emphasises the courage and bravery of soldiers. Yet in this moving story the courage to seek peace, to risk being shot in order to greet someone on the opposite side of the fighting, is explored.
This moment in our human history is utterly poignant, a moment of ordinary people courageously choosing peace. I think about the message it offers to us today.
That war was sold as the ‘War to end all wars’. In the century since there have been more wars, more systematic brutality, more genocides than at any other time in history. If ever people died for a lie, then the young men who died to secure peace in the First World War died for a lie. If we have earned anything in this last century it should be that war does not lead to peace.
To bring about peace we need some other mechanism than that of violence. This applies I find, as much, in my personal life as it may in the arena of world powers.
Christmas is notoriously a time of depression, anger and family fights. In some ways I think we buy into the hype of Christmas, that we should be jolly, happy and contented, surrounded by our loved ones, and when we are not, for whatever reason, we feel it more painfully. However I think this story of a terrible war reminds us that peace does not fall into our lives like a plum pudding. It cannot be bought, it must be preserved, prayed for and worked at.
When our focus is on ourselves, on our own gain, then something is missed. When we turn our gaze towards to the mother and child in the dark and uncomely stable, then we begin to grasp the essence of God’s gift. When for love of the Christ Child, we turn our gaze outwards to the wounded and broken world that Child came to save, when we see the poor, the sick, the isolated, when our hearts are drawn to our enemies, then the possibility of the gift of peace comes to us too.