West Ham Archdeacon Elwin Cockett says we are all hoping for peace at Christmas


- Credit: Archant

My favourite story about the First World War is about the British and German soldiers who played football together in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day, 1914.

This famous match really did happen, with the ‘Fritzes’ beating the ‘Tommies’ 3-2. As one German officer described it, “On Christmas Day, I saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy. Later a British soldier appeared with a football which seemed to come from nowhere and a few minutes later a real football match got underway. They marked their goal mouth with their strange caps and we did the same with ours. It was far from easy to play on the frozen ground, but we continued, keeping rigorously to the rules.”

That game and the Christmas truce that went with it have often been dismissed as a mere myth. At the time, though, one German writer said “It was a day of peace in war. It is only a pity that it was not decisive peace.”

Peace can mean all sorts of things to all sorts of people. We all long for peace in the troubled regions of our world. We all hope for peace for our families and friends. And we all need that inner peace the Jewish scriptures call ‘Shalom’. In that tradition it is clear it comes, above all, from being at peace with God.

For me, and for millions around the world who celebrate Christmas as more than a shopping frenzy, it is about the hope of true peace made possible by a baby born to refugee parents in a land occupied by enemy soldiers.

Most of us are not enduring trench-warfare today. But among readers there will be plenty who face their own particular challenges at the moment or during the months ahead. Whatever the battles we are involved in, and wherever those battles take us, my prayer is that we may all know what it is to enjoy real peace this Christmas and in the months ahead.

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