Today we celebrate the ‘central event in the history of the earth, the very thing the whole story has been about’ (C.S. Lewis). We celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is a day of great joy and celebration around the world.
And yet, in the midst of all the trappings and celebrations of Christmas, it can be easy to miss why Jesus’ birth is so significant. The key to Christmas lies, not in the details of the shepherds’ visit or the wise men’s journey, but in the identity of the one whom they came to worship. In Jesus, God became ‘flesh’ and ‘made his dwelling among us’ (John 1:14). Christmas is about Jesus!
Our New Testament passage for today helps us to grasp something of the enormity of what that means. In it we are reminded that ‘baby Jesus’ is also the ‘Lord of lords and King of kings’ (Revelation 17:14b). We are given a glimpse of the cosmic struggle between good and evil, as a vast array of powers and authorities line up against God. Yet we are reminded that, in the end, it is through the humility and self-sacrifice of ‘the Lamb’ that they are overcome.
Jesus puts aside the glories of heaven for a humble stall. As the carol, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, puts it:
Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail the incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”
In each of today’s passages we see the blessings of following this ‘new born King’.
Blessing, peace and satisfactionPsalm 147:12–20
All the promises of God were fulfilled when Jesus came. God promised his people blessing, peace and satisfaction (‘the best bread on your tables’, v.14, MSG). He ‘launches his promises earthward’ (v.15, MSG).
When the birth of Jesus was announced to the shepherds, the angel described it as ‘good news of great joy for all the people’ (Luke 2:10). The heavenly hosts praise God for ‘peace on earth’ (v.14). Jesus had been born in Bethlehem (meaning ‘the house of bread’). He is the one who satisfies the spiritual hunger in the heart of every human being.
Lord, thank you for the way in which you bless your people. Thank you that ‘we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). Thank you that you satisfy the deepest longings of my heart.
Called, chosen and faithfulRevelation 17:1–18
Christmas is not only a nice story, but a decisive moment in human history. In the cosmic battle between good and evil, God and the devil, Jesus is the decisive figure. That battle, and Jesus’ centrality and victory in it, is the focus of our New Testament passage for today.
Sometimes, the church appears to be fighting a losing battle. In Western Europe today, church attendance has been in decline for some time. Secularism appears to be winning. The book of Revelation reveals what is happening behind the scenes, and how things will ultimately turn out.
As we look around at our world, it is immensely powerful, attractive and seductive at one level. Yet, beneath the surface we see so much evil and so much opposition to the Lamb.
The opposition to Jesus is personified in ‘Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth’ (v.5), which is written on the woman who rides on a beast.
In the original context, the identity of ‘Babylon’ is ancient Rome. As we have seen, the ‘seven hills on which the woman sits’ (v.9) are the seven hills around Rome.
Superficially, there was something very attractive about the Roman Empire, representing all that the world offers. She is ‘dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls’ (v.4).
But beneath the superficial attraction lay violence and vice: ‘With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries’ (v.2).
It gradually becomes apparent that despite appearances to the contrary, this violence and vice was not random, but specifically targeted against God and his people. The array of characters that appear in the first half of the passage ‘have one purpose… they will make war against the Lamb’ (vv.13–14).
The wonderful news of this passage is that the Lamb wins. He doesn’t only win, but he also includes you in his victory: ‘They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers’ (v.14). As the church often comes under great attack and the forces of darkness sometimes seem to be in the ascendency, I find this verse to be a great comfort and encouragement.
As Mother Teresa said, ‘God does not call me to be successful; he calls me to be faithful.’ If you are faithful to Jesus you will ultimately be successful, because Jesus will ultimately succeed.
Celebrate today the privilege of being one of those called, chosen and faithful followers of Jesus. Jesus, the baby, born that first Christmas day, grew up, died as the Lamb of God and was raised to life.
Ultimately the Lamb will overcome all evil ‘because he is Lord of lords and King of kings’ (v.14). That is wonderful news to celebrate this Christmas. As one of the great Christian carols puts it, we have a saviour ‘to free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might. O tidings of comfort and joy!’
Lord, thank you that you are Lord of lords and King of kings. Thank you that you rule and reign. Thank you that ultimately the Lamb will overcome all the forces of evil. Help me to stick close to Jesus and be among his faithful followers.
Rebuilding, restoring and repairingNehemiah 3:1–4:23
Christmas day especially, is a day when, all over the world, the name of Jesus should be honoured. Sadly, it is so often not the case. What can you contribute to seeing the name of Jesus honoured in our world?
Jerusalem was the city of God where God dwelt. God had called Nehemiah and the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This is a wonderful visual illustration of the task of the church today. We are called to rebuild and repair so that the name of Jesus may be honoured again in our society.
Do you ever wonder ‘Am I needed?’; ‘Do I have anything to offer?’; ‘Is what I do of any value or significance?’.
In this passage, we see that everyone was needed. Everyone went to work shoulder to shoulder, side by side, rebuilding, restoring and repairing. Each was given a portion of different lengths. The key is not to compare, but simply to get on with whatever God calls you to do.
God notices what you do and values what you do. 2,500 years later, we are still reading what the people of God did here. Their names are listed.
They were all volunteers. None of them appear to have been professional builders by trade. They were businesspeople, entrepreneurs, rulers, nobles, goldsmiths and perfume-makers. Yet they were willing to offer themselves for the task of rebuilding. All ages were involved (3:12).
They might have been tempted to think that what they were doing did not seem very significant. Malkijah the ruler was asked to repair the Dung Gate! He did not complain that it was beneath him. He simply got on with it. Together they were part of something very significant. They were rebuilding Jerusalem. They were bringing honour to God’s name.
Opposition and ridicule came from the outside (4:1–8) and discouragement from within (vv.10,12). The same was true for Jesus. His birth was not welcomed by all. Herod tried to kill him. The opposition to Jesus and his church continues today.
You do not need to be afraid (v.14). Through a combination of prayer and action, success is possible. When opposition comes, respond like Nehemiah (v.9) with increased prayer and extra vigilance. They never dropped their guard (v.23).
The key: ‘Our God will fight for us!’ (v.10). With God fighting for us, a nation can be changed, churches can be filled, family life strengthened, marriage honoured, the crime rate can fall and society can be transformed. Most important of all, the name of Jesus can be honoured again.
As you look around at the state of the church, get involved in this task of rebuilding. Be willing to work hard and not to be put off by opposition.
Lord, thank you that the Lamb always wins – that the one whose birth we celebrate today will ultimately be victorious because he is ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’.
Psalm 147:14 says, ‘He grants peace…’ Or, as it says in Isaiah, ‘He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end’ (Isaiah 9:6–7a).
Peace is what is needed this Christmas: peace in our hearts, peace in the world, peace everywhere.
Verse of the Day
‘Our God will fight for us!’ (Nehemiah 4:20)
C.S. Lewis, Joyful Christian, (MacMillan Publishing Company, 1984) p.53
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.