“Mary’s Song,” a poem by Luci Shaw, reflects on the birth of Jesus: “Older than eternity, now he / is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed / to my poor planet, caught that I might be free, / blind in my womb to know my darkness ended, / brought to this birth / for me to be newborn, / and for him to see me mended / I must see him torn.”
These lines capture the hope, wonder, and pain inherent in the Christmas story. Christ was born not for gifts and lights and cookies and tinsel, but to die for our sins, that we might be saved. It is in this sense that we as believers are additional characters in the Christmas story: As born-again followers of the Christ-child, we embody the reason He came and the depth of His love for us. God very much intended to frame the story of Christ’s birth in terms of the spiritual rebirth of those who believe in Him. After all, one made the other possible!
When Nicodemus visited to inquire about these matters, Jesus honored his desire to learn. Though a religious leader, Nicodemus, unlike many of his colleagues on the Sanhedrin, was truly interested in understanding what God was doing. When Jesus used the phrase “born again” (v. 3; see 1 Peter 1:23), Nicodemus responded by asking for an explanation, which Jesus graciously provided (v. 4). Being “born again” indicates new spiritual life, a transformation so complete that the best comparison is the start of physical life outside the womb.
Spiritual rebirth involves “water and the Spirit” (v. 5). Water is a symbol of purification from sin, one which Ezekiel associated with the giving of a new heart (Ezek. 36:25–26). Such purification can only be accomplished by God’s Spirit. Salvation is His sovereign work!