This year the passage of Scripture that I have been most drawn to, that has sustained me and encouraged me the most, is Psalm 23. It has been a constant sound track to life and leadership fir 2023. As the Christmas soundtrack starts to play again – decorations, carols and the incredible story of my saviour’s birth -the soundtracks have started to merge and I’m now wondering, is Psalm 23 a Christmas Psalm? Let’s break it down…
Shepherds are Christmassy!
This famous Psalm starts as you well know with ‘The Lord is my Shepherd I lack nothing, he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul….’ Many scholars rely on WA Knights’ The song of our Syrian Guest’ to assist in understanding psalm 23. Knight brings a beautiful clarity to the psalm by simply describing a day’s work of a Middle Eastern shepherd. We often think of ‘quiet waters and green pastures’ as taking respite beside quietly flowing streams and lying down in a beautiful, luscious, daisy filled field of grass. But streams are few and far between in the shepherd country Knight is gives us view of. You can’t rely on them. Those still waters are more likely wells and cisterns, where the shepherd must take time and effort drawing-up water for a flock of thirsty sheep to drink. As well, in shepherd country, not all land is open to everyone. There are private fields of green pastures and if a sheep strays and is found there, the sheep is forfeited to the owner of the land. So, the shepherd in Psalm 23 while restoring my soul is more accurately leading me to a place to drink and retrieving me from forbidden places.
The shepherds in the Christmas story leave their sheep to find the Messiah and bow down to worship. God leaves His throne to come to earth in order that we might have eternal, living water to drink from, green pastures of peace to lie in and as saviour, to retrieve us from the place of sin and death. And it’s this reason we Christians, leave our responsibilities, put aside our day jobs and spend time in awe and worship of our Saviour whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
It’s been a year of dark valleys!
It’s been a year at Arrow, we began with the resignation of much-loved executive director as he went on to a new opportunity. We had several months of expectation and anticipation as we waited for a new executive director. We got a new executive director who then resigned after 3 months.
During the year we also said goodbye to some staff, restructured and re-designed ministry as we discovered Arrow was facing financial challenges. It’s been a year of dark valleys defined by doubt, fear, exhaustion, and disappointment.
Psalm 23 brings so much comfort in these words – “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”
The rod and staff are tools of the shepherd for defence and for guidance. As I have navigated a tough season of leadership, I have felt the comfort of God not just in His presence but in his defence and guidance.
Prepare a Christmas Table
One of the best things about Christmas is the food. You can’t picture Christmas without picturing a prepared table with all the standard Christmas foods that we indulge in this time of year. Christmas is about blessing – the blessing of a baby who was the promised Messiah, the one who would save the world from sin once and for all. Psalm 23 goes above and beyond though with – “you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” – which really is the blessing of God isn’t it? We are so blessed that our lives overflow and we are called to bless others with the overflow. This is a call from God to me as an individual to recognise the blessing in my life that comes from God and to allow it overflow into others but it’s also a call to our organisation to see the incredible blessing God has bestowed upon us and to ensure that the overflow is a blessing to those we serve and minster to. This is one of the greatest joys of Christmas – the opportunity to see how blessed we are and share in that blessing.
Dwell in the house of Emmanuel.
Finally, Psalm 23’s confidence in the goodness and love of God that will follow me all the days of my life and the promise to dwell in the house of the Lord forever speaks so clearly of the eternal message of Christmas and the Christmas idea of ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us. 2023 has been a difficult year but as I reflect on God throughout this year, I see his goodness and his mercy and how the shepherd will continue his loving care of his flock. Jesus came to earth to make a way for me to sit at the table of the Lord and dwell in His house forever.
So, is Psalm 23 a Christmas Psalm? …It’s a bit of stretch, I’ll admit. However, it is a reminder that Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us. Jesus is in everything – in every Psalm, in every story from the Old Testament through to the New, He is in every prophesy, in every letter, in every song and poem, He is in our stories, our lives, our misery, our joy, or providence – Jesus is everywhere.
Two thousand and some years ago, God’s Sprit moved upon a willing girl so that she conceived and bore God’s son, Jesus. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, like the sacrificial lambs of their days, and he lay in a manger. He was and is the Bread of Life, come to satisfy our every hunger. His life was a mission to bring His blessing to us…forgiveness of sins, peace between us and God. He is the greatest treasure ever given, and He is still being received by any who will call upon His name in faith to receive this forgiveness.
Why has Psalm 23 been a source of comfort to me this year and why am I drawn to it again at Christmas? – because it’s about Jesus – all he is and all he came to earth to achieve.
A psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Emerging Leaders Program Director
Cath joined Arrow Leadership in 2017 as the Emerging Leaders Program Director. She began pastoral ministry at Gateway Baptist Church as the Children’s Pastor in 2009 and as Generations Pastor. Cath is passionate about seeing leaders developed and be given the opportunities to achieve the potential that God has placed within them. Cath is married to Michael, who is a doctor and together they are parents to Henry and Oliver.