CHRISTIAN COMMENT The Joy of New Birth

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What is ‘simply the best thing ever’?

Loads of things, but surely high on the list comes the sight of something being born. Yes? I think so.

Everyone – well, most people – love new-born babies. If you’ve been lucky enough – privileged enough – to be present at the birth of your own children, there’s nothing more special. Simply seeing lambs, calves, piglets coming into the world can be quite magical, even when the weather’s foul and it’s night-time. Actually, night-time – especially the wee small hours – seems to make birth even more special.

Anyway (having drifted off into looped scenes from ‘Countryfile’), ‘new birth’ doesn’t just refer to physical birth. It’s also pretty special when something that has long been just an idea comes to fruition. The opening of a community building, the first meeting of a new club, first nights at the theatre – all can have that something that marks the end of a long period of preparation, maybe of struggle and sacrifice. “It’s here. It was worth it.”

There was a sense of that yesterday morning when the 21st anniversary of ‘The Big Issue’ was celebrated in an interview with its founder, John Bird. [By the way, if you’ve never bought a copy of ‘The Big Issue’ in almost any town centre in the UK, do so. It often has excellent articles by all sorts of high profile names on topics that I probably wouldn’t have known anything about otherwise – and been the poorer for it]

Mr Bird had with him a man who had been one of the early sellers. At that time, early nineties, this man had dropped out of society almost completely, was homeless and a self-confessed alcoholic.

Getting a job selling ‘The Big Issue’ had been the start of his climb back. Now, a long way from both conditions that blighted his life and with his self-esteem restored, he has a full-time job running a centre for the homeless in Canterbury.

The thing that I noticed in particular was not just his confidence but his clear-eyed engagement with the interviewers and the brightness of his face.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a human coming back to life.

There’s so much that can damage people, squash the life out of them, prevent them being fully the person God intended. Hurts, restrictions, injustices – you name it, one part of the human race has managed to inflict it on some other part of itself.

Jesus came simply that ‘we might have life and possess that life in the fullest sense.’ He also said that to know what ‘the fullest’ was, we needed to know him.

Does that mean that anyone who doesn’t know him isn’t enjoying life? Not at all. Plenty of people would say that they have a good life. And plenty more are engaged in the same sort of life-enhancing activities as John Bird. Praise God for that. What they’re doing is exactly what God said we should be doing when he told us to love each other. Because it is love that this sort of endeavour is expressing.

So why Jesus?

Because, with all the good that is done by enterprises like The Big Issue, there are still limits. The changes that come about are still limited in time and in expectation. But the new life that Jesus gives touches every single part of our being, especially what goes on inside us. There is no end to the hope that it brings. And it goes with us when we die.

And that’s the biggest issue.

By Nigel O’Dwyer who lives and works in Worthing