I was watching the Arsenal game last night when something unprecedented happened.
At half-time, before kicking off the second half, both Arsenal FC (widely rumoured to be the Queen’s favourite team) and FC Zürich’s players came together in a minute of silence and respect.
These demonstrations are not uncommon in football: The passing of legendary players, fans or club servants are acknowledged in such displays at times. Thing is, they only occur at the start of games.
So what happened during half-time was monumental: Queen Elizabeth II had passed on.
Today and in the days to come, nations will be mourning the passing of a beloved Queen who served for some seven decades.
But as her brothers and sisters in Christ, it is also a time to celebrate this woman of God’s life and legacy.
We’ve studied each of these Christmas addresses since 1952 to put together a selection of writings that edify and inspire, in honour of this ardent defender of the faith and humble servant of God.
1952: The Queen’s first Christmas message through radio
… Pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.
May God bless and guide you all through the coming year.
1957: The first Christmas broadcast to be televised
That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us.
Because of these changes I am not surprised that many people feel lost and unable to decide what to hold on to and what to discard. How to take advantage of the new life without losing the best of the old.
But it is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.
They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness, and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint.
At this critical moment in our history, we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth.
Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest.
We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.
It has always been easy to hate and destroy. To build and to cherish is much more difficult.
1961: Faith, love and service
Every year at this time the whole Christian world celebrates the birth of the founder of our faith. It is traditionally the time for family reunions, present-giving and children’s parties.
A welcome escape, in fact, from the harsh realities of this troubled world, and it is just in times like these, times of tension and anxieties, that the simple story and message of Christmas is most relevant.
The story is of a poor man and his wife who took refuge at night in a stable, where a child was born and laid in the manger.
Nothing very spectacular, and yet the event was greeted with that triumphant song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”
For that child was to show that there is nothing in heaven and earth that cannot be achieved by faith and by love and service to one’s neighbour.
1973: What it means to be human
I believe that Christmas should remind us that the qualities of the human spirit are more important than material gain. Christ taught love and charity, and that we should show humanity and compassion at all times and in all situations.
A lack of humanity and compassion can be very destructive — how easily this causes diversions within nations and between nations.
We should remember instead how much we have in common and resolve to give expression to the best of our human qualities, not only at Christmas, but right through the year.
1978: The things worth holding on to
Christians have the compelling example of the life and teaching of Christ and, for myself, I would like nothing more than that my grandchildren should hold dear His ideals which have helped and inspired so many previous generations.
1981: Courage and conviction
As human beings we generally know what is right and how we should act and speak. But we are also very aware of how difficult it is to have the courage of our convictions.
Our Christian faith helps us to sustain those convictions. Christ not only revealed to us the truth in his teachings.
He lived by what he believed and gave us the strength to try to do the same — and, finally, on the cross, he showed the supreme example of physical and moral courage.
That sacrifice was the dawn of Christianity, and this is why at Christmas time we are inspired by the example of Christ as we celebrate his birth.
1997: Kindness to one another
St Paul spoke of the first Christmas as the kindness of God dawning upon the world.
The world needs that kindness now more than ever — the kindness and consideration for others that disarms malice and allows us to get on with one another with respect and affection.
Christmas reassures us that God is with us today.
But, as I have discovered afresh for myself this year, He is always present in the kindness shown by our neighbours and the love of our friends and family.
2000: A framework for living
For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.
I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.
2002: Hope while mourning mother and sister
I know just how much I rely on my own faith to guide me through the good times and the bad.
Each day is a new beginning, I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.
Like others of you who draw inspiration from your own faith, I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.
2009: Who believers ought to be
We know that Christmas is a time for celebration and family reunions; but it is also a time to reflect on what confronts those less fortunate than ourselves, at home and throughout the world.
Christians are taught to love their neighbours, having compassion and concern, and being ready to undertake charity and voluntary work to ease the burden of deprivation and disadvantage.
We may ourselves be confronted by a bewildering array of difficulties and challenges, but we must never cease to work for a better future for ourselves and for others.
2011: Power of forgiveness
Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear.
The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.
God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.
2014: Peace and reconciliation
For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.
A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, He stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.
Sometimes it seems that reconciliation stands little chance in the face of war and discord. But, as the Christmas truce a century ago reminds us, peace and goodwill have lasting power in the hearts of men and women.
2016: Following Christ’s example
At Christmas, our attention is drawn to the birth of a baby some 2,000 years ago. It was the humblest of beginnings, and his parents, Joseph and Mary, did not think they were important.
Jesus Christ lived obscurely for most of his life and never travelled far. He was maligned and rejected by many, though he had done no wrong. And yet, billions of people now follow his teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives.
I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.
2020: The Good Samaritan
The man who is robbed and left at the roadside is saved by someone who did not share his religion or culture. This wonderful story of kindness is still as relevant today.
Good Samaritans have emerged across society showing care and respect for all, regardless of gender, race or background, reminding us that each one of us is special and equal in the eyes of God.
The teachings of Christ have served as my inner light, as has the sense of purpose we can find in coming together to worship.
2021: Of new beginnings
And for me and my family, even with one familiar laugh missing this year, there will be joy in Christmas, as we have the chance to reminisce and see anew the wonder of the festive season through the eyes of our young children, of whom we were delighted to welcome four more this year.
They teach us all a lesson — just as the Christmas story does — that in the birth of a child, there is a new dawn with endless potential.
It is this simplicity of the Christmas story that makes it so universally appealing: simple happenings that formed the starting point of the life of Jesus — a man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, and have been the bedrock of my faith. His birth marked a new beginning.
As the carol says: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
I wish you all a very happy Christmas.
Few can claim to have seen the scale of sweeping change through societies as Queen Elizabeth II had in her life.
Fewer still have had the privilege of sharing the Christian faith and its kingdom values in word and deed to the Commonwealth’s billions, for as long as she had.
As Queen Elizabeth II enters into the paradise of the Lord she served all her life, we remember her remarkable life of faith, love and service.