One of the great marketing tropes of Christmas is a play on nostalgia: the return to childhood. You’ve seen the commercials–the little boy playing with a matchbox car wakes up as a man on Christmas morning to find a grown-up version of the toy car parked in his driveway. The little girls making tamales in the kitchen are transformed into lifelong friends who keep the holiday together.
The power of childhood is a major motivating factor of Christmas. We spend a little more than we should “for the children,” we travel to far-flung family “for the children,” maybe we even attend a Christmas Eve service “for the children.” But after the wonder and magic of Christmas has worn off, we’re back to work, back to school, back to “adulting,” and the power of childhood seems like a long-lost dream.
But there’s a power at work in the world that reverses the order of things, it turns the world upside down, it’s unexpected and it’s unnatural: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
Power to Become Children
One theologian says, “There’s a paradox for you: power to become powerless.” This certainly isn’t a power respected by anyone in our world. A politician can’t use it, a general would laugh at it, a hedge-fund manager would be baffled by it. So what does John mean when he speaks of this power to become children?
John is, of course, speaking about the new birth–regeneration, or as we’re used to talking about it, being “born again.” The power to be made the children of God is not a resource that we employ, it’s a force that acts on us, turning orphans into sons, turning paupers into heirs. John goes on to say that this power–this right and privilege, as other translations put it–is a gift of God, not the result of natural circumstances or the choices we make. It’s a work of God for us, turning God’s enemies into his friends. Later in his life, this same John will write to the early church and he will return to this theme of rebirth saying, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1).
This means that on Christmas Day, when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we should also celebrate our own birthdays! In Jesus Christ, we’ve been made the children of God. Now, this was God’s work for us because nothing in us can bring about this new birth. By nature, the Bible says, we are children of wrath and opposed to God (Eph. 2:3). And it was while we were his enemies that Christ died for us, the apostle Paul reminds us (Rom. 5:8). But now anyone–no matter their natural lineage–can be called a child of God if they trust in Jesus Christ.
Why is that important? Because Jesus is the son of God–singular. He’s the one who by nature deserves all the love and care of his Father. But Jesus didn’t consider that prerogative worth grasping. Instead, he took the form of a servant, becoming like one of us, even humbling himself to death on a cross to rescue us from our sin and misery (Phil. 2:6-8). And it’s only because this one Son of God became man, died, and rose again that you and me–men, women, boys, and girls–can become sons of God along with Jesus, coheirs of the heavenly inheritance that rightfully belongs to him.
A Finalized Verdict
The beauty of this power–to turn strangers into sons–is demonstrated in an adoption courtroom. When the judge bangs the gavel finalizing the adoption, it’s complete. That child has been given a new family, a new name, a new birth certificate.
In the same way, when the gavel of God’s heavenly courtroom signals that the final “not guilty” verdict has been pronounced over you, all of heaven rejoices that the holy child of Bethlehem is now surrounded by a countless number of sisters and brothers who have by grace become children of God. That’s a power that doesn’t fade away after the lights are put up, after the vacation is over, and after work starts again. That’s a power that will change you for eternity.
Though his manger stood under the shadow of his cross, your new life is lived in the light of the dawn of a new creation. “If anyone is in Christ,” the Bible says, “he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). New life in Mary’s womb, new life for you and me, a new world still to come.
So, happy Christmas and merry birthday! They are one in the same, for every Christmas is a day of new life for all who trust in Christ for their salvation.