Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christ in the Manger - Christmas Day

Christmas Day 2014

The time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

597  O come all ye faithful [1,2,6,7]

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Reading:  Luke 2:8-20

72        Away in a manger

Sharing Christmas Greetings

Christmas message
One word stands out for me this Christmas.

It’s the word …


My dictionary describes it as an adverb that means ‘in spite of that’.

It’s the very first word in chapter 9 of Isaiah – in the Authorised Version – what’s gone on in chapters 7-8 is pretty hellish – there’s civil war, the threat of invasion – words are difficult to find to describe how the people felt

Torn apart
In the darkness

Words are difficult to find … yet one word stands out


Nevertheless, in spite of it all

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

In the darkness
A great light
In the shadows
The dawn breaks
A child is born
A son is given
Wonderful Counsellor
Mighty God
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace

One hundred years ago today the world was pretty hellish – Europe was torn apart, divided shattered – people felt abandoned, alone, in the darkness.

Then comes that moment.

That word


In spite of all that

Something happened

Cue video clip of the Christmas  Truce

One of those things that has been to the fore in our minds this Christmas and even more so this Christmas Day is the famed Christmas Truce of one hundred years ago today.

When Pittville school brought their Year 7’s to share a carol service I did as you do and googled the Christmas truce in order to get a video clip to show them.

One thing struck me quite forcibly about the video clip.

The famed Chrsitmas truce complete with its football game happened in Ploegstrasse in Belgium.

The location meant something to me.
On 12th May 1915 my father was born.  On that day Private Reginald Cole was on sentry duty in Ploegstrasse – he raised his head above the parapet.  All was clear.  A second time he raised his head above the parapet and he was shot by a sniper.

My grandmother was cousin to Reginald Cole’s mother.  And so decided to name my father Reginald remembering the one who had died.

I have birthday presents given to my father by Reginald Cole’s father – To Reggie on his seventh birthday remembering another Reggie – it seems but yesterday.

Uncle Ab was Abraham Cole, founder of Cheltenham’s The Famous.

There’s something distinctive about the cemetery in Ploegstrasse where he is buried.  Both  Germans and British soldiers are buried side by side.

That Christmas truce is in a sense a ‘nevertheless’ moment.  In spite of that horror, that darkness there was this special moment of peace.

And yet … there’s more to Christmas than that.

There was a fascinating interview on the Radio a couple of weeks ago. 

It was an interview with the Great Great Grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Prince Philip Kereel of Prussia, who was over here for a Carol service at Crystal Palace to mark that Christmas Truce.
That in itself was interesting because he was also the Great Great  Great Great Grandson of Queen Victoria.  Maybe a timely reminder of the way in which the countries of Europe have been interlinked for centuries, not least in their Royal Families.

To set the scene for the interview they played a recording of Rifleman Graham Williams who had been there at that first Christmas truce.  He described the Germans singing Silent Night …  he then went on to say “we felt we had to retaliate and so we replied with the First Nowell”

The recording over, the interviewer then asked his first question:

“Do German people remember the Christmas truce?”

“Not much actually.

“I wish it was - because it was such a special moment.”

Then it was that the Kaiser’s Great Great Grandson, and Queen Victoria’s Great Great Great Grandson took the interview in quite an unexpected direction.  The interviewer didn’t have a chance to ask another question!

“But for me as a Lutheran Minister,” he went on to say,  “one thing is even more important and that’s the war took place before and it went on afterwards so it was just like you said, a very short period of time.
“And concerning Christmas it’s not about having a peaceful time with your family or with your mates even among soldiers:  but it’s about the Prince of Peace coming to earth and letting him come into people’s hearts: that’s what it would all start with and what could change things.”

Prince Philip Kereel of Prussia then went on to refer to the item of news that had gone before this piece about the Christmas Truce.

It had been about the Refugee Crisis that has swept across the Middle East and the appeal the United Nations was making for the western countries to accept more refugees – 30,000 in  Germany and 90 in the UK.

“You just had the interview with Alastair Burt and he said the Refugee crisis would stop right away if the Assad Regime would stop killing their own people.

“There in this one person if he had peace in his heart then everything would change.  And that would have been the same in 1914 as it is today so  there is a much bigger story than this Christmas Truce.”

With that the interview came to an end.  Time was up.  It was time for the sports news.

It was a very, very powerful moment.

Think of Christmas as an interlude – a ‘nevertheless’ moment in the middle of a pretty grim world, a moment for celebration that passes, then what’s the point?

There’s something much more in the message at the heart of Christmas.

Put the Prince of Peace in our hearts not just for these few moments at Christmas but the year round and discover the difference it can make.

Putting the Prince of Peace in our hearts gives another dimension to life – a framework that brings God’s presence deep into our hearts as a strength that can see us through difficult times, through the times of the shadow beyond.

Putting the Prince of Peace in our hearts gives us a framework for living our lives that’s based on love for God and love for others.  It’s a way of life that can make all the difference in our homes, our work place, our world.

In the New Year ‘Question’ is going to run – a six week course for those who have questions to ask about faith, about putting the Prince of Peace into your hearts.

It’s what prompts us at Christmas to re-commit ourselves to the care of others – we are also going to have a focus on offering care in bereavement after Christmas. 

And it’s what prompts us to have a special Christmas collection for ongoing work the year round – not just for Christmas.

This year we are supporting Children’s Homes in Kerala State – a small initiative one person had, Sister Mary, who had worked alongside Mother Teresa, a small initiative that drew in another individual Robin Radley who had the inspiration to set up a trust to support initially one, then two then three homes in the Kerala countryside.   A small initiative that caught our Sue Cole’s imagination.  And for a dozen and more years Sue has been involved – has only just got back.

Briefly, Sue, give us an update on Chiks.

Drawing on her skills as a vet, Sue has contributed immensely to the sustainability project that saw the opening of a new cowshed while she was there – and its names as Susan Farm.

Before we take our Christmas collection we are going to sing the carol they sang in that Christmas truce.

As we sing these words, let’s seek to put the Prince of Peace into our hearts and discover the difference that makes in the living of our lives.

95        Silent night, holy night

Our Christmas Collection for CHIKS

Prayers of Concern

93        The first Nowell

Words of Blessing

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