Editor's note: This is the first of a planned series of faith-based columns written by local pastors.
Six months into World War I, something unique happened that has not happened in any other war since. It was Christmas Eve in the western front of the war, and in one particular place Germans began calling out across the trenches to their British and Scottish adversaries, “Merry Christmas!” The Germans began singing Christmas carols. Then, British or Scots joined in trading volleys of Christmas carols of glad tidings and the Prince of peace instead of volleys of hot lead. Eventually, a German soldier ventured into “no man’s land,” between the trenches, and beckoned their adversaries to do the same. Soon they were sharing gifts, drinks, chocolates and food. In one location, they roasted a hog together and feasted. In another case, Scots and Germans played a friendly soccer game together.
The “Christmas Truce” of World War I has become legend because it is such a rare momentary phenomenon — an anomaly. Something in us, however, hopes that peace in war or joy in trials are not mutually exclusive realities.
In Psalm 23, David poetically unfolds truths of God’s care of His sheep, which millions have and continue to look to for comfort in hard times. In verse 5 David declares, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
For the sheep of the Good Shepherd, joy and peace in the midst of trials, trauma and conflict do not have to be anomalies. They can be a regular reality.
David states that the Good Shepherd prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies. The imagery of the table and household hospitality communicate a sense of security, feasting and fellowship (i.e. joy and peace) felt by David. Interestingly, this is in the “presence of his enemies.” His peace and feasting does not start when the trouble is over. It begins in the presence of the Good Shepherd.
David continues, “You anoint my head with oil.” As a way of showing favor to one’s guests, oil was used to refresh the wind worn and dirty face of weary travelers. David expresses that, in the care of the Good Shepherd, he feels God’s favor for him and it refreshes him in the stress of his persistent troubles. Only God’s undeserved, unending, unconditional love can refresh our weary souls.
Because of the Good Shepherd’s care David declares, “My cup overflows.”
Though his circumstances threaten to drain his cup and anxiety and stress drain him of his joy and peace, David feels full. No, overflowing! David feels his life overflows with God’s goodness. The Good Shepherd is generous with his joy and his love.
David’s joy and peace and provision did not come when the trouble was gone, but in the midst of it. How can this be? David is making a much deeper point here that we cannot miss. The point for David is not WHAT the Lord fills the table with in life, it is about WHO is filling the table (“You prepare. … You anoint…”).
In the Good Shepherd, in Jesus, we have joy … we have fullness of life. He is the bread of life. We can feast in abundance all the time no matter our circumstances or what evil or enemy comes against us. If we have Jesus, or — better put — if Jesus has you and me, that is all we need in this life and that is all that matters. Therefore, when our eyes are on the Good Shepherd, He is our provision, and therefore we can trust that He is working in the midst of trials and trauma, conflict and chaos.
In our self-centered sinfulness, our expectations set us up for failure. “God, change my circumstances so I can be content, joyful and at peace.” Too often, this tends to be the focus of our prayers to God.
God reminds us through the prophet Isaiah, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isa 26:3).
The Christmas Truce of World War I is an anomaly. However, with Christ, such peace and joy in the midst of chaos and conflict does not have to be an anomaly, it can be a regular reality. What are you looking to in order to satisfy yourself? If your eyes are on you and your circumstance — on what you don’t have, or on what you fear to lose — you will find your table set with disappointment and your cup filled with bitterness from unmet expectations. If your eyes are on the Good Shepherd, you will see The One who sets the table before you, and know He is enough. You will experience His favor pour over you. You will feast and drink deep of His overflowing love.
Scott Barber is a pastor at Worthington's Grace Community Church.