“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

December, 2006

As Christmas approaches, it’s time for Christmas traditions as well. There are church traditions like the hanging of the greens and the annual Christmas cantata or family traditions like trimming the tree or visiting relatives. And some of us have yet another tradition: Watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” To this day, it remains one of my favorite movies of all time. No matter how many times I watch it, I still cry at the end.

You know the story by now: Frustrated everyman George Bailey, desperate, at the end of his rope, gets a chance to see what things would be like if he had never been born, thanks to his guardian angel, Clarence. He finds his small home town, Bedford Falls, renamed Pottersville and changed nearly beyond recognition. The formerly quaint main street is lined with seedy bars. The Building and Loan, where George has worked since graduating from high school, is gone.

But perhaps the most profound changes are in the people: Jovial Nick the bartender is mean and cruel. Girl-with-a-heart-of-gold Violet is an alcoholic call girl. And even George’s kindly mother is bitter and cynical. Each of them has had the outer veneer stripped away, revealing the people they might have been under other circumstances. I don’t know how many times I had seen the movie but a couple of years ago I wondered how George Bailey could look at these people the same way. The movie seems to end “happily ever after” with George being reminded how may friends he has, everyone singing “Auld Lang Syne,” and guardian angel Clarence receiving his wings. But George has seen a side of some of his friends that was best left hidden. I confess I’m not a very forgiving person but I don’t think I could deal with it the way George apparently does. For that matter, George’s own emotional rampage has probably left some wreckage in its wake as well.

Like George Bailey with his friends, God has seen our worst side. Jesus told the Pharisees, “. . . God knows your hearts.” (Luke 16:15b NIV). And God not only knows the hearts of the Pharisees, God knows our hearts as well. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome that “. . . God’s judgment . . . is based on truth.” (Rom. 2:2b NIV). Since God knows all about us, it seems remarkable that God loves and forgives us. Jesus’ followers asked him, “‘Who then can be saved?’” (Luke 18:26b NIV). They had just seen a rich man turn away from following Jesus (Luke 18:23), and they wondered whether there was hope for them. Paul told the Romans, “. . . we were God’s enemies,” (Rom. 5:10a NIV). Surely there could be no hope for “God’s enemies.”

And yet there is hope: Paul told his young friend Timothy, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim. 1:15 NIV). Jesus routinely ate and drank with “‘tax collectors and “sinners”’” (Luke 5:30b NIV) because he knew that “‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’” (Luke 5:31b NIV). Paul told the Romans, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8 NIV). Whenever we ask, “Who can be saved?” Jesus answers, “‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’” (Luke 18:26-27 NIV). Christ came because God knew we had no hope of reconciling ourselves to God. There is nothing we can do to “make things right.” Peter boldly declared, “‘And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Acts 2:21 NIV). It doesn’t matter who we are, what we’ve done, or what we’re like on the inside; all of us can be saved. And Paul told the Corinthians, “But the man who loves God is known by God.” (1 Cor. 8:3 NIV). We don’t have to worry because God knows us. In fact, it is because God knows us–and loves us anyway–that we can have hope. We can know God because God first knew us.

There’s someone near you who is feeling unloved and unlovable, who believes he or she isn’t worth knowing, who is thinking, “If they only knew the real me, they wouldn’t want to know me.” He or she desperately needs your love and acceptance, to know God and the peace that comes from salvation. Someone needs to know what you and I already know.

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time.” (1 Tim. 2:3-6 NIV.)

Copyright © 2006 by David Phelps