You’ve probably seen those photos or videos of pregnancy announcements in which an only child is wearing a new t-shirt that reads “Future Big Brother” or “I’m the Big Sister” or maybe “Mom” receives a personalized item – a t-shirt, mug, plaque, for example – that says “Grandma.” As the announcement breaks, as the baby is born, everyone discovers they have a new identity. Husband and wife become Dad and Mom. A child becomes a brother or sister. Moms and Dads are promoted to grandparents – Nanas and Papas or Grandmas and Grandpas or Grammies and PopPops.
Not only does everyone get a new name, but they get a new role with new expectations, responsibilities, maybe even privileges. Grandparents who used to have strict rules for bed times and snacks between meals when they were parents often loosen the reins (and then send the sugar-soaked darlings home). Parents – who used to rebel against “Because I said so” as children – now use the phrase as if they invented it. The child who becomes an older sibling gains the responsibility of being an example to younger siblings (whether they want to or not), but they also get to stay up later!
Sure, not all families are alike, but the fact remains: new birth means change. Change in identity. Change in responsibility. Change in routines. Change in relationships.
That all certainly happened when Jesus was born. In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul explains these changes that came about because of Jesus:
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7, NIV 1984)
Paul reminds us, the Church, that everything we are – redeemed, God’s children, heirs of God – began with the birth of Christ. It’s true for each individual Christian, and it’s true for us as a body. Through Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection we have been transformed from sinful individuals into a new community, the family of God, the body of Christ, the Church. We are no longer strangers but family, brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul emphasizes this transformation and describes how it builds community in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, NIV 1984)
Because of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, God has created a new community, and we are now citizens of that community by our new birth in Christ. And we are more than an organization; we’re family.
Together we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are brothers and sisters with Christ because God has adopted us as his children through our faith in Christ, which Paul explains in Romans 8:16, 17:
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (NIV 1984)
This means we have more than a new home; we have new relationships, new roles, new responsibilities. As we celebrate the birth of Christ, may we celebrate the birth of community – our common identity and unity in Christ. Merry Christmas!