Christmas on the Battlefield


"you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” – Psalm 23

There is a stained glass window designed by the artist Reginald Frampton. It was commissioned by Charles Loxton in memory of his son Charles Edward Holden Loxton, known as Edward. Edward was a 2nd Lieutenant in the North Staffs Regiment and served in the trenches on the Western Front in Flanders. One night he led a patrol to repair barbed wire damaged by enemy artillery and was shot by a sniper during a thunderstorm. He died on the way to a Casualty Clearing Station on May 23rd 1915 at Wulverghem in Belgium and is buried in Nieukirche Cemetery in Belgium. He was 23 years old.

The subject for the window was inspired by a letter from a fellow officer to Edward’s father after his death. In it he wrote, “Your wife will be pleased to know that your son partook of Holy Communion on Thursday last. A few of us went just before we came to the trenches.” Edward can be seen in the picture kneeling to receive Holy Communion from the priest. At the top of the window is the flag of St. George and beneath that the coat of arms of the North Staffs Regiment, as well as the Prince of Wales’ (the Colonel in Chief) three feathers and motto ich dien.

I especially love the pictures of soldiers receiving communion in the middle of a war. Can you imagine? Or maybe some of you can more than imagine it. Death is all around. Tomorrow is unknown. It’s Christmas Day while the sights and sounds of war overshadow the great feast.

In the midst of suffering, hate, and sin, Jesus sets a table for soldiers. He feeds the fearful with forgiveness and eternal life.

Soon many of us will enjoy our Christmas feasts. We may not be on a literal battlefield, but we all have a battlefield don’t we? What are yours today? What enemies surround you? The fear of losing your job? The fear of losing control of money, health, family? Are you waiting for test results to come in from the doctor’s office? We might take a day off to be happy, but we know what looms around the corner, or worse… we don’t. Maybe you are the enemy—the way you speak to others, the addiction to the Internet, to porn, lust, greed, the trail of tears you have left behind you. Maybe you don’t think you should be forgiven.

Yes this Christmas we are all on a battlefield, in the midst of war. Satan, sin and death crouch on every corner.

So it was that first Christmas. Jesus is plopped down in the midst of it all—in the womb of a humble nobody, next to dung and held tightly by rough worn hands. A meal indeed, He is wrapped in cloths lying literally in a feed trough! More than that He comes in the midst of sin and death, busted dreams and losing battles. Yet His beginning is just a preview of His ending as He announces, “It is finished,” hanging for our sins between two murderous rebels.

And in the midst of the dark and dirty a green shoot springs, nee, breaks the dungeon doors!

And in the midst of war He comes with cool water, and a magical Word; our sins are finished, forgotten, forgiven by God and that an eternal blossom begins in our own heart.

“you prepare a table before me in the presence of enemies.”

This Christmas you are likely surrounded by enemies, in some sort of war, battling demons outside or in, feeling defeated by your own succumbing to temptation. Good News. Christmas is not a place you go to. It’s not a fantasy on a screen or the result of existential struggle. Christmas comes to you where you are at—in the midst of your enemies; in the hospital bed, beside your dying mother, in your dark corner where you realize you are completely unworthy, unclean, out of control and helpless. Christmas is for you. The Lord prepares His table there—“Take and eat, this is my body; take and drink this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins.” He is the bread of life, quite literally.

So eat and drink dear sinners, scared and scattered, in the midst of battles and bruises. Christmas is for you. It’s only for those in the battlefield.

Celebrate Christmas wherever you are, knowing that one day you will dine without enemies encroaching and joined with dinner companions from long ago.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples, 

a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines. 

On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples, 

the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever. 

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;

he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.

The Lord has spoken.
In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us. 

This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

– Isaiah 25:6-9

Merry Christmas


Rev. Joel Hess is the fortunate pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Cadillac, MI, where God’s reality pierces through our illusions by His Word, flesh and blood and gentle waters.  He is the author of many half written projects; a talented musician and artist.  His contributions to the Jagged Word deal with the intersection of theology, culture and the arts.

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