Day 360

Why Christmas?

Wisdom Psalm 147:12-20
New Testament Revelation 17:1-18
Old Testament Nehemiah 3:1-4:23


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 magnitude 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 get 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’.


Psalm 147:12-20

  12 Extol the Lord, Jerusalem;
   praise your God, Zion.

  13 He strengthens the bars of your gates
   and blesses your people within you.
  14 He grants peace to your borders
   and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.

  15 He sends his command to the earth;
   his word runs swiftly.
  16 He spreads the snow like wool
   and scatters the frost like ashes.
  17 He hurls down his hail like pebbles.
   Who can withstand his icy blast?
  18 He sends his word and melts them;
   he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.

  19 He has revealed his word to Jacob,
   his laws and decrees to Israel.
  20 He has done this for no other nation;
   they do not know his laws.

Praise the Lord.


Blessing, peace and satisfaction

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.

New Testament

Revelation 17:1-18

Babylon, the Prostitute on the Beast

17 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. 2 With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5 The name written on her forehead was a mystery:




6 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.

When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. 7 Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

12 “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13 They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings —and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

15 Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”


Called, chosen and faithful

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). This 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.

Old Testament

Nehemiah 3:1-4:23

Builders of the Wall

3 Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zakkur son of Imri built next to them.

3 The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. 4 Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. 5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

6 The Jeshanah Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. 7 Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah—Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth—places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. 8 Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section. 10 Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. 11 Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.

13 The Valley Gate was repaired by Hanun and the residents of Zanoah. They rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. They also repaired a thousand cubits of the wall as far as the Dung Gate.

14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Rekab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place.

15 The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallun son of Kol-Hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah. He rebuilt it, roofing it over and putting its doors and bolts and bars in place. He also repaired the wall of the Pool of Siloam, by the King’s Garden, as far as the steps going down from the City of David. 16 Beyond him, Nehemiah son of Azbuk, ruler of a half-district of Beth Zur, made repairs up to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool and the House of the Heroes.

17 Next to him, the repairs were made by the Levites under Rehum son of Bani. Beside him, Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district. 18 Next to him, the repairs were made by their fellow Levites under Binnui son of Henadad, ruler of the other half-district of Keilah. 19 Next to him, Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section, from a point facing the ascent to the armoury as far as the angle of the wall. 20 Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest. 21 Next to him, Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired another section, from the entrance of Eliashib’s house to the end of it.

22 The repairs next to him were made by the priests from the surrounding region. 23 Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house. 24 Next to him, Binnui son of Henadad repaired another section, from Azariah’s house to the angle and the corner, 25 and Palal son of Uzai worked opposite the angle and the tower projecting from the upper palace near the court of the guard. Next to him, Pedaiah son of Parosh 26 and the temple servants living on the hill of Ophel made repairs up to a point opposite the Water Gate toward the east and the projecting tower. 27 Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another section, from the great projecting tower to the wall of Ophel.

28 Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. 29 Next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house. Next to him, Shemaiah son of Shekaniah, the guard at the East Gate, made repairs. 30 Next to him, Hananiah son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. Next to them, Meshullam son of Berekiah made repairs opposite his living quarters. 31 Next to him, Malkijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the temple servants and the merchants, opposite the Inspection Gate, and as far as the room above the corner; 32 and between the room above the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and merchants made repairs.

Opposition to the Rebuilding

4 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble —burned as they are?”

3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”

4 Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.

6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”

11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”

12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”

13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.

16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armour. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.

19 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”

21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.” 23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.


Rebuilding, restoring and repairing

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 his 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 will 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.20). 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’.

Pippa adds

In Psalm 147:14 it 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 9:6–7).

Peace is what is needed this Christmas: peace in our hearts, peace in our families, peace in the world, peace everywhere.



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The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel Commentary is available as a book.


C.S. Lewis, Joyful Christian (MacMillan Publishing Company, 1984) p.53.

Charles Wesley, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.

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.

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