Katrina & The Waifs
B U Right Back
Little Children Come
Eat Your Greens
Van Diemen's Land
Bring Me To Life
2007 12 15
A few days ago Ricky Hatton fought in Las Vegas for the WBC Welterweight crown. We now know he was unsuccessful but leading up to the fight there was a lot of excitement.
This even extended to BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour featuring an interview with Ricky's (Richard's) Mum, Carol. She's always ringside for his fights and is his biggest fan. The interview began with her retelling the events of his birth:
This really caught my attention. The words of the nurses were almost prophetic! The strange circumstances marking his entry into this world had foreshadowed his life and spoken something of what would follow.
While on the one hand I found this fascinating and was quite happy for that to be true for Ricky Hatton, I then wondered how I'd feel if it was me whose life had been set in stone from the outset. I'm very much a child of the late 20th Century. Since the 60's we've been uncomfortable with the idea that our lives can be dictated to us by anyone or anything. Phrases like 'You're your father's son' or references to one's place of birth make me quietly bristle and want to protest 'I'm ME' and 'I choose where I live'. This is echoed in the whole nurture/nature debate which swirls around us. It's probably just not 'PC' to accept that a life could follow a predetermined course; we all want to believe in choice and self-invention.
Of course Ricky Hatton's birth narrative isn't unique. Outside of our culture there's more weight placed on such portents. Biblical birth narratives have for some time fascinated me.
In particular I like the story in Genesis 25 of Jacob's birth. Two nations warring in the womb and Esau is barely able to be born because his brother has a hold on him (Jacob of course was a good wrestler, as God Himself later found out). Esau is preternaturally hirsute so they call him 'Hairy' but the younger brother who will usurp the elder is named 'Heel' as he grasped the heel of his brother in an effort to come out first and supplant him.
Extraordinary tale, but the parents heed the signs and reflect them in the naming of their sons.
It turns out that these initial conditions do indeed presage the whole of Jacob's life which will be dominated by his stormy relationship with his brother fueled by the ambition of his mother for him to fulfill the prophecy and inherit the birthright of the firstborn.
Jacob's isn't the only birth narrative in the Bible of course. Particularly at this time of year we remember another! In this case, news of the new arrival was leaking out hundreds of years before the actual birth. It's as though God is so excited, He can't keep the news to himself! This is fairly characteristic. Later, when His son has grown up and is baptized, a proud father can't but help blurt out from heaven 'My son, in whom I'm well pleased!' It reminds me of the dog and puppy in the Tom & Jerry cartoons, where the paternal canine is wont to declare 'That's my boy!'.
But the birth narrative of Jesus is extraordinary. Angelic visitations, dreams, celestial signage... amazing. One of my favourites is Isaiah's prophecy, Ch 9 vv 6-7. Given that Jesus had a Jewish mother and such a successful Father, one might wonder at the unfashionable pressure to succeed that may have characterized His childhood. Fortunate then that at twelve, he was already so prodigious!
But what of each of us? What's our birth narrative and what cloud of potential hovered over us as we arrived in this world? Are we even comfortable with that idea or possibly afraid to accept what it may mean?
Some years ago I received an email which rendered huge statistics in a comprehensible form by imagining the world as a village of 100 people. I was shocked to realize I was in the very small minority of people born into great privilege.
The statistics have been updated with the latest research and you can see for yourself at: http://www.100people.org/statistics_100stats.php
Without any further prophecies or omens, I'm already faced with an almost unbearable responsibility that my life is full of potential, by dint of the mere fact that I was born into the family I was; in the town I was; the country I was.
Earlier this year we celebrated the abolition of the slave trade and events like the release of the movie Amazing Grace brought home the contribution made by men such as William Wilberforce. Men and women who used their considerable talents and personal resources to do good, to make the world a better place, to fulfill the call of God on their lives and see His Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. People who rather than squander their birthright selfishly, realized their responsibility to exercise it for the benefit of all, whatever the personal cost.
We might baulk and wince at the thought of dedicating ourselves to a cause with the commitment demonstrated by the abolitionists, yet I would contend that a yearning for a sense of purpose and meaning is latent in each of us and all the recent trend for individuality has done is increase that vacuum.
Evidence of this can be seen in the popularity of fictional television series such as Heroes, which carefully connect with our inherent desires both to be unique and belong. We want to know we have significance in this life yet also aspire to the context of that being a community one. Heroes series 1 concluded recently with the main characters exhibiting weakness not strength; needing each other rather than being self sufficient; recognizing the importance of family; putting themselves in harm's way to protect others; and ultimately laying down life to save the world. Doesn't that sound familiar - strength revealed in weakness and the sacrifice of a life to redeem mankind?
God so loved the world that He gave His son. The story of Christmas is not that He came but why He came. The bright light of the star and the glory of the angelic host filling the sky that first Christmas cast a shadow - a shadow of prophecy, potential, purpose and destiny; the shadow of the cross.
Will each of us dare to stand in that light, the light of Jesus? Will we dare to see what shadow our lives cast and will we dare to live up to that and walk in the light?
© cag 2007