In 1946, Frank Capra (1893-1991) released the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Made for approximately $3 million dollars, he both produced and directed the film. It was. The storyline revolves around George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997). He wants to see the world but is shackled by responsibility to his hometown, Bedford Falls. Today, it is one of the most loved movies in America. It is a Christmas classic that is viewed annually by many. I have watched it countless times. How many times have you watched It’s a Wonderful Life?
I love the scene in the movie when Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore (1878-1954), offers George a job. For years, Potter has frustrated the people of Bedford Falls for personal gain. He is the perfect villain. The scene begins with Mr. Potter offering George some thinly veiled complements. George is a young man with high potential. The only logical thing to do is increase his income by going to work for Potter. At first, George is tempted by the offer. Then, he shakes Potter’s hand and everything changes. George begins to consider the consequences of his new position. With strong words for Potter, George races out of the office. You can feel his frustration. In just a few seconds, George goes from living on the mountaintop to living in the valley. In other words, he goes from living with hope to living without hope. In the end, he does what is best for others. Have you ever felt like George Bailey? At one time you had hope, but now your hopes are dead. They died from a terminal case of responsibility.
The reason It’s a Wonderful Life is so popular is we can relate to George Bailey. We live in a Mr. Potter world, and we all play the part of George Bailey. We are trying to stay hopeful about the future, but it is hard. The news is filled with nothing but hopelessness. The theme of every story depressing. The word that is used repeatedly is strife. There is strife between the political parties. There is strife between ethnic factions and strife among nations. There is strife between the economic classes. Our world is filled with strife and hopeless, hunger, pollution, and violence. Crime seems to be spreading to every community, so our prisons are filled. Our hospitals are filled with both the physically and mentally ill. How many people do you know are addicted to drugs or alcohol? Third World Nations are hopelessly in debt to the world banks. There seems to be a shortage of hope. Hopelessness has permeated our society. The by-product of our hopeless world is negative people. How many negative people do you know? The Dalai Lama (born 1935) once said, “I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus on the brightness. I do not judge the universe.”
Maybe that is why we love Christmas? To the believer, Christmas is more than decorations, gifts, cards, and parties. It is more than community spirit, volunteerism, and family. Christmas is about the incarnation of God. American historian Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968) once said, “The primary source of the appeal of Christianity is Jesus – His incarnation, His life, His crucifixion, and His Resurrection.” Without Jesus, we would be living in a hopeless Mr. Potter world. Jesus changed everything and still offers the world hope. In the blog, I want to talk about the three forms of hope Jesus offers.
In Mr. Potter’s world there is only loneliness. Since the birth of Jesus, the world has the opportunity of having a companionship with God. Jesus was more than a baby. Jesus was the incarnation of God. He left the perfection of heaven and entered our imperfect world. He left the perfection of heaven to slum it with people like us. The question that has haunted the generations is, “Why?” This is the answer. God loves us and wants to relate to the human condition. There has never been a moment in your life when you were alone. God is always present. Jesus came to offer us companionship.
In 2012, America’s northeast was hit by Hurricane Sandy. It was a category three hurricane. For years, homes and community stood in that area. In a matter of a few hours everything was destroyed. It took years to rebuild those homes and communities. Many from around the country went to the New York City area to help. Some that needed help were firefighters who went to New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the gulf coast in 2005. Some of the New Orleans firefighters traveled to the north to lend a hand and return the favor. They interviewed one of the men. He said there is a bond among fire fighters around the country. According to him, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy forged a special bond between the firefighters of New York and New Orleans. One New York fire fighter simply said, “It’s nice to know we are not alone.” We are not alone. Jesus came to offer us companionship.
In Mr. Potter’s world there is ignorance. Since the birth of Jesus, the world can live in wisdom. In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey struggled financially, but he was a rich man when it came to relationships. The same thing can be said about Jesus. When it came to personal finances, Jesus was a failure. He only owned the clothes on his back and traveled within a small geographic area. However, when it came to relationships, he was successful. Jesus showed us how to live. The wise know the key to happiness in life comes from our relationships. How rich are you?
During my time in the ministry, I would take the summer months and look at a single Old Testament character. One summer we looked at Ruth. She was the great-grandmother to King David. Do you remember her story? There was a great famine in the land of Judah, and many were forced out of their homes. One man who was forced to leave was named Elimelech. He was married to a woman named Naomi. They had two sons. The four of them settled in Moab. It was only natural that the sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. You can’t blame them. You know what they say about Moabite women! In time, all the males in the story die so the women are forced to live alone. Women had no rights in those days. They had nothing, so Naomi encourages her daughters-in-law to return home. Orpah does and says, “Goodbye.” However, Ruth remains devoted to Naomi. She does not stay with her for some legalistic reason. She stays out of love. This Old Testament character teachers us a New Testament principle. The most valuable thing in our lives is our relationships. Jesus came to offer us companionship. Jesus came to offer us wisdom.
In a Mr. Potter’s world there is discord. Since the birth of Jesus, we can at peace with God. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior in December 1974. The one emotion I felt that day was peace. Since that time, I have lived at peace with God and no longer fear death. The apostle Paul said it best in Romans 5:1, “Since we have been justified by faith, we live at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
In 1555, Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555) was the Bishop of London. He was burned at the stake because for his faith. On the night before his execution, his brother offered to remain with him in the prison chamber. Nicholas declined the offer. He wanted to go to bed early because he wanted a good night’s rest. He said, “Tomorrow, I am going to meet my Savior.” Those words reveal the truth. He was completely comfortable with his death and completely at peace with God. How at peace are you with God? How did you sleep last night? Jesus came to offer us companionship. Jesus came to offer us wisdom. Jesus came to offer us peace.
Christmas is just a few weeks away. This will be the first year in forty years, I will not be leading worship on Christmas Eve. It is an odd feeling. In the past, I led as many as three worship services on Christmas Eve, but the one I enjoyed the most was the last one, the 11:00 Christmas Eve candlelight service. I looked forward to it annually. The crowds were gone, and I could relax. I was comfortable with my message because I had already preached it twice. I just listened to the words of the sacred texts, the second chapter of Luke and the first chapter of John. I have heard those words our entire life. Every time those words move me. I am so humbled God entered this world.
Between now and Christmas, I would challenge you to simply read the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth. The Christmas narrative is so large it can’t be described by one author. Each one of the writers handles it in this own way. For some reason, Mark does not even mention the birth of Jesus. He is silent on the topic. John looks at the birth of Jesus in a logical way. You remember the verse. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was God.” Luke, the common man’s Gospel, tries to include the actions of that sacred night, including common people. He tells us about the no vacancy sign at the inn. He tells us about the manger. He tells us about the shepherds and the angels. Matthew, the Jewish Gospel, tells us about Jesus’ genealogy, the coming of the Magi and the Holy families escape to Egypt. There are so many parts to the story, so you must read all four Gospels, so you get the whole picture.
Don’t read them to preach it or teach it. Read the words for the edification of your own soul. I guarantee they will move you because your soul will be enriched. Be thankful you don’t life in Mr. Potter’s hopeless world. Be thankful you live in a hopeful world dominated by Jesus Christ. Christmas reminds us of our divine companionship. Christmas reminds us to value our relationships. Christmas reminds us of our divine peace. Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) once said, “Christmas is not a time or a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world.”