I was almost 30 years old the first time I actually watched the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’m sure I saw it many times before, but it never really captured my attention, and as with many of the Christmas Classics in my younger years, I would quickly change the channel. That particular year my son, still a toddler, had his tonsils taken out, and that led to a few sleepless nights around our home. One of those late nights, or rather early mornings, when it was my turn to stay up and rock our son, I had flipped on the TV and did the obligatory channel surfing. It was well after 1 a.m. and I found nothing of interest on. So I settled for the holiday classic my wife had no doubt recommended many times before.
Most people are familiar with the story of George Bailey, who was a kind and giving person. Despite his dreams to leave the community he had grown up in, his sense of responsibility and concern for putting others before himself kept him in the “measly, one-horse town.” In fact the major premise of the movie, what life would be like if he hadn’t been born, was a result of really wanting a better life for his family. Without giving away all the story, in case there are some of you who haven’t seen it for the millionth time, George Bailey recognizes that he has a wonderful life, and that his life was a major influence on his family and friends. It’s a movie that was considered a box office failure in 1947, it was later placed on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 best films ever made, and ranks number one on its list of most inspirational films of all time.
You may wonder what the big deal with this movie is. For me, it was the way that George Bailey was depicted. He was a normal guy who cared about people. His was a life of self-sacrifice and encouraging others. He had a wonderful life. In fact, even though Frank Capra was aiming at this, I would say George Baily had an incarnational life! He learned that no matter who you are, you have purpose in life. Have you ever wondered what it might be like if you were never born? How many other lives would be impacted because of how God has used you? He’s given you an incarnational life, too!
Christmas is all about the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. How well we know the story. Most of us can recite it by heart. We know all about the shepherds in the fields, about the angels in the air, the long trip that Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We remember the Inn Keeper, who kept the holy family out, and the cave where Mary gave birth to Jesus in a manger—an animal’s feed trough. Talk about a humble beginning! The most amazing part of the story is how God came to dwell among us in human form. We read in the Gospel of John, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is God incarnate, something we celebrate during the season before us in the Word, worship and song!
It’s wonderful to remember the Christmas story, but what does it motivate you to do? What action does it bring about in your life? Incarnational living is about allowing Jesus to live His life through us. Incarnational living is all about telling people about Jesus, not so much with words as with our deeds, with how we live and conduct ourselves in the world. Incarnational Holiday living is even more focused as we prepare to celebrate the birthday of Jesus!
I have found that people are far more receptive to talking about faith and issues of faith at Christmas time more than any other time of the year. Even many secular retailers carry nativity scenes and play familiar Christmas carols that speak of the birth of Jesus. Even good old Bing Crosby sang so reverently about coming to “adore Him, Christ the Lord!” These are all what have been called “Gospel handles”—opportunities to grab hold of the Gospel in natural circumstances and share the good news in new ways. There are so many of these all around us that enable us to connect people to Jesus.
The Word became flesh so that we could experience the power of His love. Now we get to share that love with others as we live it out in the world all around us.
Paul Harvey once told the story of a family on Christmas Eve that reflects life in our current post-churched culture. The family had cultivated a tradition where the mother and children would go to the Christmas Eve service, and the father would stay home and read the paper. Then when they got back from church, they would open their gifts. The father was not a bad man, he just had trouble believing in the Incarnation–that the Son of God was born to a virgin, and that she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.
One cold and snowy Christmas Eve when his wife and children left to go to church he sat down in his favorite chair opened up the evening paper and began to read it. He was buried in his own world when suddenly, he heard tapping on the window, and went over to investigate. It was a bird flying against the window. He concluded that the bird must be cold and was attempting to get into his house to get warm. He felt sorry for the bird, and he went outside, to see if he could catch it and bring it inside to keep it from dying.
As he approached the bird, the bird frantically began flying into the window even harder. Pretty soon, the bird flew into the bushes below the window, half frozen, and exhausted. But it was still too afraid of the man, and the more he tried to reach for the bird, the more the bird tried to get away from him. After a few minutes outside in the freezing temperatures without any luck catching the bird the man yelled out in frustration, “Stupid bird, don’t you understand that I’m trying to help you?” The man paused and thought, “If only you understood you wouldn’t fly away … if only … if only I could become a bird, and get you to understand you would see that I want to save you.”
Just then, the church bells rang, as they always did at the beginning of the Christmas Eve Service. But when the man heard the bells this time, he fell to his knees and began to cry, saying, “Oh, God, I didn’t understand. Oh, God, I didn’t understand.” You see, this man came to the realization that God became incarnate for our sake. God, in His compassion, saw us flailing around, confused and needing help. So He became like us. The Son of God had come in the form of a baby. The Holy God of heaven and earth was incarnate for our sake. He came to help us and tell us how our relationship with Him could be restored. Sure the man was late to church that year, and it was the first time he had been in many years, but he started a new tradition for their family, and their celebration was rich as they celebrated the incarnation of Jesus in a brand new and more meaningful way.
How many families do you know that are just waiting to be invited to know the true story of Jesus? Your incarnational living, allowing the love of Jesus to flow through you, could make a huge difference in someone’s eternal life. You see, we have a wonderful life because of Jesus. Now He’s calling us to spread that good news so that others may know Him and live eternally!
May this Christmas season be filled with opportunities for you to live Incarnationally for Jesus! You have a purpose as you abide in Jesus! Merry Christmas!