We might become like God
Christmas is a season when we can savor the greatest gift we’ve ever received—the gift of God coming to us in skin as Jesus Christ. But ironically, Christmas, for many, is also the busiest and most stressful time of the year. In North America, we will spend more than six billion dollars as we plan and attend parties, take in concerts, send cards, prepare special meals, and buy gifts. Though these are all good things, taken altogether, they can leave us short of breath and short of attention.
So how can we simplify our lives this Christmas? How can we slow down and take some time to savor the gift we have received in Christ Jesus—the gift of God becoming one of us, taking on skin so that he might know us, we might know him, and we might become more like him?
“Yet to all who . . . receive [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). The expression, “receive Jesus,” may seem to suggest a one-time deal when we first welcome Christ into our lives. But in all of our close relationships—whether with friends, family, or a romantic love—we don’t just receive someone once, but we welcome them again and again whenever we share time or enjoy meals together and when we experience adventures and adversity together. This is also true with Christ. When we receive Christ for the first time, he will begin to change us. But as we welcome Christ into our lives, over and over again, we will see our lives changed more and more.
In John’s gospel, we read that those who receive Jesus are given the right to become the children of God, children born of the Holy Spirit. In our individualistic world, we tend to think of children as sons or daughters of their biological or adoptive parents. But in John’s more communal world, people had a stronger sense of children’s identity in relationship to their fathers or mothers. They commonly used the expression, “son of so-and-so,” or “daughter of so-and-so,” to signify that a child was like his or her father or mother in some way. For example, John had a brother named James, and together they were called the “Sons of Zebedee,” because that was their father’s name.
People in John’s time also might have described a person as a son or daughter of some characteristic that was apparent in their lives. For example, John and James were also called the “sons of thunder.” Why? Because they were hotheads, and their tempers exploded like thunder. Then they began to follow Jesus, and they became sons of God and took on the character of their Father in heaven. They grew more patient, kind, and loving. Their transformation was a thing of wonder and beauty. That kind of life-changing effect was part of the reason that Christianity went viral in the first century.
One of the great promises of the Christmas story is that because of Christ’s birth as God in human flesh, we can become sons and daughters of God. We can become people who are like our Father in heaven.
Some time ago, I was visiting my mother at her home and asking about our family tree. My mom told me something about her father, my grandpa, that I had never heard before: “When Grandma met Grandpa, Grandma thought he was this virtuous, honorable, principled man, but then Grandpa became really successful professionally; he became quite wealthy and he grew proud and he was unfaithful to Grandma. And at least on one occasion he was also physically violent toward her.” Then at eighty-six years of age, my grandfather received Jesus Christ and became a son of God. He did not become a saint, but according to my cousin, he became kinder and gentler. He even started to help with the dishes for the first time in his life! After more than sixty years, it’s about time, right? But he was living in Japan, and he was the patriarch and had been a former CEO. It is very unusual in Japan for a man of his age and stature to help with domestic chores. Yet my grandfather changed after he became a son of God.
I don’t know if I will ever have grandkids. If I do, and they become curious about how my life unfolded, they might say something like this: “Our Grandpa Ken was a really mean guy in high school. He wouldn’t let anyone that he thought was uncool hang out with him. He shoplifted, used drugs, and got into fistfights. Then he met Jesus, and he became more welcoming and loving, and with God’s help, he built a church that tried to welcome everyone.”
In reflecting on my family tree, I also thought about my wife’s family tree. Her name, Sakiko, in Japanese, means Sa, “early,” Ki, “Christ,” Ko, “child.” Her name literally means, “early Christ child,” and she was the first person in her family tree to follow Jesus. Her parents, who weren’t Christians at her birth, unknowingly and prophetically named her. When Sakiko gave her life to Jesus as a young adult, her parents were shocked and upset; Sakiko’s decision to follow Christ was a break from family religious tradition. But her mother told me later that when Sakiko was growing up, she was very successful academically, was naturally good at sports and art, and was popular to boot. She ended up going to a good university and then flourished in her career. Her mom observed, “She was also really proud and judgmental—feeling superior to others.” After Sakiko met Christ, her father and mother were upset, but they couldn’t deny that she became a humbler, less judgmental, kinder, and more loving person. Because of the change in Sakiko’s life, her mom, then her sister, and then her grandmother gave their lives to Jesus. After Sakiko became a daughter of God, she grew more like Jesus, more like her heavenly Father.
For a long time, I have deeply admired Nelson Mandela. Not long after he died, our church hosted a friend of his from South Africa named Michael Cassidy. Because Michael had regularly met with Mandela, I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask if Mandela had been a follower of Jesus. Michael responded, “Absolutely, he was a believer and follower of Jesus.”
Whether Mandela had followed Jesus, or not, he would have been a remarkable person, but part of what made him incredibly wise, forgiving, luminous, and loving was that he was a son of God. I’m not saying that if you become a son or daughter of God, you’ll become the next Mandela, but you will grow wiser, more forgiving, and more loving. You will become more like Jesus.
We celebrate the gift of Christmas because God became con carne, taking on skin so that we might know him, and he might know us, and we might become the children of God—people who bear the image of our Father in heaven. As St. Augustine said, “The Son of God became a Son of man so that we might become the sons and daughters of God.” As John puts it, in Christ, we become a people who bear in our very being “the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father,” people “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Do you want to know this Higher Power, the Word, the living God of the universe personally? Then immerse yourself in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, where you can observe God as a human being in Jesus.
2 Peter 1:5–9 and Galatians 5:22–23 both talk about characteristics of a growing and maturing follower of Jesus, someone being transformed to act like Jesus. List those characteristics that are most (and least) evident in your life.
What area(s) of your life show the most change in being like Jesus? Which areas are you still praying for his help?
Choose one attribute from the lists given in 2 Peter and Galatians and ask the Lord to give you the opportunity to grow in this area this week.