Last night we sat down to watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. I don’t know whether you’ve seen it or even heard of it. You may not have done. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you hadn’t. Digby’s first question was ‘is it in grey all the way through?’
It’s an old film. James Stewart plays George Bailey. He’s a good man. From his earliest days he sacrifices himself and his own ambitions to do the right thing for the protection of others. You can’t help but like him. Everyone does. And rightly so. But by middle age with an ever increasing number of burdens, it’s all beginning to wear a little bit thin. He bears a heavy load. And it’s becoming overwhelming. Then something happens to put the viability of the Bank that he manages into doubt. It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. And he snaps. As far as he’s concerned, it’s so bad that the turning point of the film (a long way in) finds him on a bridge on Christmas Eve contemplating ending his own life. At this point an angel comes to earth; Clarence Odbody (do you see what they’ve done there?!) In order to convince George that life is worth living he shows him just what life would have been like if George had never been born. In brief, it would have been miserable. And George is left in no doubt that the world is a better place with him in it.
That’s an answer. It’s a good answer. And it’s enough to persuade George not to commit suicide. But it’s not the only answer. And it’s not the best answer. There was another angel who came to earth from heaven on Christmas Eve. He spoke to some shepherds saying,
‘Do not be afraid’.
It was clearly a terrifying experience to be brought face to face with an angelic being. But after his initial words of comfort and reassurance he said these familiar words,
‘I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Let me join the dots. He’s talking about Jesus. David’s town is Bethlehem. And because there was no room anywhere else he had to be laid in an animal’s feeding trough. This is God’s Messiah. He’s clearly a different kind of king. Despite his humble birth he’s the long awaited promised saviour king that the whole Old Testament had been looking forward to. His arrival is good news. It’s really good news that Jesus has come to save us from our sins because no one else indeed nothing else ever can. It’ll produce great joy. There’s nothing quite like the liberation that comes from knowing that all our mistakes have been wiped away so that they’re no longer an issue with God. And it’s for all people. No one need be excluded from this Christmas celebration. We’re all sinners in need of a saviour. And Jesus is a saviour for sinners. However you do the maths, it’s a winning equation.
I suspect that many of us feel that we’re carrying heavy burdens at the moment. It may not be as bad as it was for George Bailey. But I guess we’re all familiar with the rising stress levels over the Christmas period. There’s so much to do and there’s so much expected of us. We worry that we’ll lose it. And many of us will at some point. What we need most at a time like this is not a vision of the world without us in it. The truth is it may well be a better place! What we need is forgiveness. We need to know that Jesus has died to forgive us for all the mistakes we’re going to make this Christmas. It turns out that the most wonderful life is the forgiven one.
Find time this Christmas to see the film. It’s no less a great watch for all my spoilers. I think it’s 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. You should probably also include ‘The Snowman’, ‘The Polar Express’, ‘The Nativity Trilogy’ and ‘Love Actually’. OK, so maybe not. But rest assured that this movie is way out of their league. You won’t regret watching it.
But more than that spend some time this Christmas with an angel. The one in Luke 2. Listen to what they have to say to you. It’s really, really good news.