Having a baby is cause for celebration and, in the days before the ultrasound test, it used to carry with it some element of surprise. Would the baby be a boy or a girl?
These days, however, most people don’t wait until the child enters the world to announce whether it’s a him or her. “Gender reveal” parties are all the rage as people gather family and friends (and social media followers) at a party to show what little bundle of joy they are expecting. Most people agree this began with a simple post on social media in 2008, when a woman named Jenna Karvunidis and her husband cut into a cake revealing pink icing for a girl. She posted about it on her blog, and the idea soon went viral. But since social media makes everything a competition to go a step further, some gender reveal parties have actually gone way off the rails.
Take the case of a gender reveal party given fall of last year in which the family paid for a plane to crop dust a field with 350 gallons of pink water to honor their unborn female child. The plane stalled out and crashed after dumping its shower of pink. In another incident in 2017, a father-to-be started a 47,000-acre wildfire that caused $8.2 million in damage when he shot his hunting rifle at an explosive target full of blue powder. And, since human beings are very good at “never learning,” this year a couple’s gender reveal started a fire in El Dorado Park in California that destroyed over 21,000 acres. Sadly, a firefighter’s death occurred in that one, and it’s not the only time. In October 2019, in Knoxville, Iowa, a grandmother was killed by flying shrapnel when another pyrotechnic gender reveal was inadvertently turned into a pipe bomb.
We can blame this on Instagram or on the fact that we now tend to over-script and over-celebrate most things in life to impress strangers. Can you imagine your great-grandparents taking pictures of their dinner, for example? Whatever the impulse, gender reveal disasters can overshadow the joy of the actual birth of the baby.
The same tendency applies to Christmas, too. Ostensibly, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of a baby, but we’ve become so scripted and overzealous in our celebration that we miss the real meaning of the event. Many (if not most) of the people who celebrate Christmas in our culture have only a vague notion that it has to do with a birth and are much more interested in clogging malls, buying presents, shilling for Santa, and putting elves on shelves. Christmas started out as a fairly simple celebration around the fourth century, but lately has gone viral and burned an explosive swath of consumerism through culture. Somewhere in the midst of it all, people forgot what it was about: the most important reveal in history.
We read the familiar story of Jesus’ birth according to the gospel of Luke. Maybe it has become so familiar that we miss the fact that the story was actually a more explosive revelation than anything one might create in their backyard. And yet, when God reveals the coming arrival of His Son, it isn’t at a party, nor is it a media event. The reveal takes place in some quiet places: through the words of prophets, in the quiet of a tiny house in the nowhere town of Nazareth to a young girl engaged to be married, to shepherds, societal outcasts, sleeping in fields. God doesn’t seem interested in making the arrival of Jesus a media event. Luke makes this clear and, in a way, sets up a contrast between Jesus and Caesar, whom he mentions at the beginning of Chapter 2. Caesar Augustus didn’t do anything without making it a media event — the media in those days being heralds and coinage. Augustus had coins minted announcing that he was a “son of god” (in his case, being the adopted son of Julius Caesar, whom Augustus and others considered to be divine in some sense). “Lord” was a title reserved for Caesar, as was “Prince of Peace.” In the announcement stories, Luke makes certain that readers know Jesus is the true Son of God, the world’s true Lord, and the real bringer of peace, but the announcement doesn’t take place in the halls of the Roman or Judean government or in the first-century equivalent of social media. The announcement comes in nowhere places to people who are nobodies.
And the announcement isn’t just, “It’s a boy!” It’s an announcement about His purpose. The angel tells Mary that He will be the holy “Son of God” (Luke 1:36). The angel tells the shepherds that He will be their “Savior,” who is “the Messiah, the Lord:” the world’s true king and Lord (2:12). In Rome, the army would sing their allegiance to Caesar, but in a field outside Bethlehem the angel armies of God declare His praise: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (v. 14).
It’s the announcement that God had broken into a broken world, not in a heavenly display of fireworks, but in the form of a leaky, burpy, tiny human child. And this baby, fully human and fully divine, born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, will forever redefine humanity. Indeed, the real announcement of Christmas is that, in the coming of Jesus, God has rebooted the human race.
Paul’s letter to Titus announces what has been revealed in the coming of Christ in powerful terms. The “grace of God” has appeared in Jesus, and that grace has spread like wildfire, offering salvation to all people (Titus 2:11). In Jesus, God has fully identified with humanity broken by sin and offered us new life, new birth, made possible in His victory over sin in His death and resurrection from the dead. He is the perfect model of humanity, the One who is “truly human” as the Nicene Creed says, who came down from heaven “for us and for our salvation.” And as the new model for humanity, Paul says, He enables us in the power of the Holy Spirit to say “no” to the ways of a broken world. Instead, He guides us “to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” while we wait for another reveal to come: the “blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (v. 13). The gift that He brings in His birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension is His self-giving love that can “redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (v. 14).
And that’s the real surprise revealed on Christmas Eve. Not only is Jesus revealed as the world’s true Savior and Lord, it’s also the revelation that we, too, can be reborn as women and men who live the purpose and vocation for which we were created. As John puts it, when we receive Christ and believe in His name, we are given “power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Jesus would tell Nicodemus that becoming a child of God requires being “born from above” and “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:3, 5).
This is the good news that can’t be contained in a cake or blown up with fireworks. It’s the good news of the gospel that is revealed in Jesus Christ. It’s the good news that it doesn’t matter where you came from, where you were born, what the circumstances were; it doesn’t matter what your past looks like, what sins you’ve committed, what hurts and brokenness you have in your life. The good news is that Christ has come to offer you a new birth, a new beginning. His grace makes it possible for you to be forgiven, your life to be transformed; you can be made new! All you must do is receive Him and let His grace and love catch fire in your life.
The Savior of the world has been revealed and laid in a manger. His coming, humanity and purpose were quietly revealed centuries before by prophets like Isaiah, who celebrated Him as a child “born for us, a son given to us” who is the “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father” and the true “Prince of Peace” who establishes the reign of God’s kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7).
And that Savior reveals to us how we, too, can be revealed as people made new by His sacrificial and forgiving love. That’s worth celebrating! No explosives required.