Truly, this is the ‘most wonderful time of the year.’ Sure, stores are crowded and everyone is burdened with scheduling and budgetary conflicts; yet in moments of stillness, the scents and sights of Christmas surround us and we find ourselves in awe of the fact that Almighty God humbled himself to visit us so that he could then redeem us. There is no greater gift to mankind.
As I contemplate all that Christmas means to me, I focus on both the theological significance and cultural traditions that have come to define Christmas. From a cultural perspective, I can’t remember a year when I did not gather with family for the traditional viewing of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s amazing how a simple movie can convey such deep moral and biblical lessons.
This year, as I think about George Bailey and all the other characters that were impacted through his routine actions, I also think about abolitionists such as Levi Coffin, who provided a shelter for thousands of slaves who traveled to freedom via the Underground Railroad and Oskar Schindler who, in essence, bought freedom for more than a thousand Polish-Jews who otherwise would have lost their lives during the Holocaust. The effects of these actions are felt to the third, fourth and fifth generations. In fact, these actions affect our society corporately and each of us individually.
Pause for a second and think about all those who have directly impacted your well-being – doctors, authors, inventors, researchers, teachers, professors, mentors, etc. – and then consider the possibility that any one of them may be a descendant of a former slave. At this point, you may skeptically assume that this exercise is a bit far-fetched as you may be unable to point directly to a descendant of a former slave who has impacted your life. But think back to our friend George Bailey who rescued his brother (Harry) from drowning in ice and then Harry went on to save the lives of World War II troops stationed on Naval ships in the Pacific. The families of those troops were directly impacted by the actions of George Bailey even though they would never know his name.
This of course is all fiction, yet in reality, who among us has survived some devastating illness or surgery? Who among us has greatly benefitted from specific technological advances? Who among us has been on the verge of failure only to have a teacher or mentor guide us in the path of success? Even now, as we thank God for those who have impacted us, we should also thank God for the “George Bailey’s” of their lives that made it possible for them to assist us.
This exercise is not merely intended to create an attitude of thanksgiving, but also to compel us to intentional action. As It’s a Wonderful Life draws to its conclusion we see George Bailey surrounded by friends and family as he finally understands that he really is the “richest man in town.” As the movie ends I have often questioned how George Bailey’s life would change. The character, George Bailey, was always a good moral man who chose the ethical high-ground over expedient self-serving schemes, but I would hope that after coming to understand the full implications of his actions, his decision making process would be more intentional, contemplating the long-term repercussions of each decision.
This question is not rhetorical or philosophical but it is one that we should ask ourselves. Do we or can we make choices whereby we become “George Bailey” to someone else who will then affect countless generations and societies in the future? Our lives can and should impact others in this way. At this very moment, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are enslaved here in America and our choices, our decisions can have a direct impact upon their lives and the lives of their children, grand-children, etc. Will you act intentionally?