It’s a Wonderful Life

December 9, 2012

It’s a Wonderful Life
(Begin with Clip from “It’s a Wonderful Life” scene where
George meets Clarence and wishes he had never been born”
It’s a Wonderful Life has consistently been ranked in the
top 100 movies of all times, it has been called the number one inspirational
film as well as one of the most popular Christmas movies ever produced, and it’s
not even about Christmas.  It is simply a
movie that is set at Christmas time. Even if you’ve never seen the movie you
are probably familiar with the phrase: Every time a bell rings an angel gets
his wings. 
It’s a Wonderful life is based on a short story, entitled “The
Greatest Gift” that was written by Philip Van Doren Ster.  The author couldn’t interest a publisher and
so he eventually self-published in 1943 and used the story for his Christmas
cards.  Eventually though the story was
seen by director Frank Capra who purchased the rights and the movie was made
and released by RKO studios in 1946.  It
starred Jimmy Stewart who had just returned from serving as a pilot during WW2
and Donna Reed an up and coming actress.
Interestingly enough the movie was considered to be a box
office flop because of its high production costs and the stiff competition that
was out at the time.  I wonder what the
more successful movies of that year were?
It would be easy to assume that everyone here has seen the
movie but I actually watched it for the first time last year.  
So for the three people here today who have never seen the
movie here is a synopsis.  George Bailey,
played by Jimmy Stewart is a good man who consistently puts the needs of others
before his own needs, even to the point of giving up his dreams of travel and
becoming an architect in order to run the family building and loan Company
following his father’s death.  You still
with me?  The turning point in the movie
comes when George’s Uncle Billy accidentally loses $8,000.00 of the company’s
money just before the bank examiner arrives to audit the books.  Enter the villain, Henry Potter, played by
Lionel Barrymore who was best known for playing Scrooge on radio productions of
the Christmas Carol.  Potter is an evil
banker who determines that he will have George thrown in jail and charged with
fraud so he can close down the competition. 
George feels that he has let everyone down and he decides
that he is worth more to his family dead than alive and decides to commit
suicide by jumping off a bridge. 
However, all over town people are praying for George and God sends down
Angel Second Class Clarence Odbody to intervene.  And if Clarence is successful in saving
George he will be made a full angel and receive his wings, with the appropriate
ringing of a bell of course.  Not great
theology but a pretty good story. 
Just before George jumps off the bridge Clarence does,
prompting George to once again put aside his plans in order to help someone
else.  George jumps in and saves Clarence
and that led to the scene that we just watched. 
After Clarence grants George his wish, he goes on to show
our hero how different the world would have been without his actions.  The difference in lives that George had
touched and saved, even the difference in how the town of Bedford Falls would
have ended up. 
George runs back to Clarence and begs him to be allowed to
live, his request is granted, all turns out well, a bell rings, an angel gets
his wings and George understands that it truly is a Wonderful Life.
A couple of pieces of trivia about the movie, Jimmy Stewart
wasn’t the first choice to play George, Cary Grant was.  Donna Reed was about fifth in line to play
Mary.  The names of the taxi driver and
policeman in the movie are Bert and Ernie, no relation to the Bert and Ernie
from Sesame Street. 
The FBI felt that the movie It’s a Wonderful Life was
subversive.  On May 26, 1947, the FBI
issued a memo stating “With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”,
[redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious
attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’
so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these
sources, is a common trick used by Communists. [In] addition, [redacted] stated
that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class,
attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable
characters.”
But that was then and this is now.  The theme of the movie is the difference that
one life can make. Today is the second Sunday of Advent and we are moving
toward the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.   But have you ever wondered what would the
world would be like without the birth of Jesus. 
A couple of months ago I heard John Ortberg preach his sermon “Who is
this Man?” and he spoke about the impact that Jesus has had on the world.  And I know all of that but again I was amazed
and intrigued by the difference that Jesus has made, not just in my life
personally but in the world that we live in. 
Years ago I heard a little ditty that said, “Roses are red,
violets are bluish if it weren’t for Christmas we’d all be Jewish.  But even if that is true, which it isn’t,
that would be the least of the differences in our world.  So if we could un-ring the bell so to speak
and speak Christmas and the birth of Christ out of existence, what would the
world look like if Jesus had never been born?
Without Jesus Time Would
be Viewed Differently 
If you take your bulletin and look at the front on the very top
it says December 9, 2012.  We take that
for granted.  That is the date.  More correctly it would say AD 2012, but what
does the AD mean?  It is short for the
Latin phrase Anno Domini  which translated
into English is: In the year of our Lord. 
For most of human history time was measured by those who
were in power at the time, so you will recall at the beginning of the Christmas
story we read in Luke 2:1-2 At that time the Roman emperor,
Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.
(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
And so the birth of Jesus was originally dated by the fact
that most of the known world was ruled by Caesar Augustus and today we know
that Augustus died in 14.  14 What?  14 the Year of our Lord.  When Jesus was crucified it was under the
authority of Caesar Tiberius.  Tiberius
died in 37, the year of our Lord.  
History has been divided into two sections those things that happened
before Jesus was born and those things that happened after Jesus was born. 
And so the greatest men and women in history, for good or
for evil are defined by two dates, when they were born and when they died, and
those dates are referenced to the birth of a baby in a stable in a little
village in a small occupied country over 20 centuries ago.  And so Napoleon Bonaparte lived from
1769-1821 in the year of our Lord.  And Mahatma
Gandhi lived from 1869 to 1948 in the year of our Lord.  And if you were to visit the grave of the great
Atheist Friedrich Nietzsche  on his
tombstone you would see his life summed up by the dates 1844-1900,  in the year of our Lord. 
Muhammad, the founder of Islam lived from 570 to 632 in the
year of our Lord.  There have been
attempts through the years to secularize this by referring to it as CE or the
Common Era, but common in what?  In the
birth of Jesus.
But it’s not just a matter of time.
Jesus told his disciples
in  Matthew
16:18
Now I say to you that you are Peter
(which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the
powers of hell will not conquer it.
Without Christ there would be
no Christ Followers, there would be no church. 
And for some people that wouldn’t be much of an issue because they
haven’t seen the church as a positive influence.  It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said “I call
Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one
great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous,
secret, subterranean, petty — I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”   
But then again this was the
same Nietzsche who was cared for as an orphan by his Christian Grand Parents,
who was educated in a university that was started by the church, who was
treated in a hospital founded by the church, who died in 1900 the Year of our
Lord and was buried in a Christian graveyard.
Without Christ there would be
no Christ Followers because they were the gift that Jesus gave to the world, he
told the world Luke 6:47 I will show you what it’s like
when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.
The impact that Jesus made he
made though those who followed him.  If
there had been no Jesus there would have been no Jesus followers to make a
difference in the world.  But what was
the difference He made through them?
Without Jesus the Poor Would be Viewed Differently  Tomorrow evening I will be at the mall in
Bedford standing next to a  Kettle
wearing a Santa hat and collecting money for the less fortunate for
Christmas.  Why?  Because in 1865 a Jesus Follower named
William Booth thought the words of Jesus were important when he told people to
take care of the poor.  And the Salvation
Army has continued to do that for almost 150 years.
At Cornerstone we are
collecting money this Christmas to partner with World Hope to drill a well in a
village in Sierra Leone, why?  Because
almost twenty years ago a Wesleyan Pastor by the name of Joanne Lyon took the
words of Jesus serious when he said Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a
drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.   And when his followers said “When did
this happen?”  Jesus told them Matthew 25:40 “. . . I tell you the truth, when
you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing
it to me!”
 I’m
not saying that compassion is limited to Jesus and his followers but when
disasters happen it is the World Hopes and World Visions, and Samaritan Purses
and the Compassion Internationals that are there firstest with the mostest.  Why? 
Because two thousand years ago Jesus was born and told his followers to
care for the poor and the unfortunate.
Which is why in 1863 when an
international organization was founded in Geneva Switzerland to care for those
in need the symbol they chose was a Red Cross. 
 It’s why the origination that was
started to provide a safe refuge for young men from the streets of London in
1844 was called the YMCA.   Young Men’s
Christian Association. 
And because Jesus welcomed the
little children it was the church that established the first orphanages, and
because it was Jesus who had compassion on the lepers that it was the church
that ministered to those who were considered unclean and undesirable by the
rest of the world.
Which leads us to the next
point. 
Without Jesus the Sick Would be Viewed Differently  How many people here were born at the
Grace Maternity Hospital here in Halifax. 
Do you know why there is a Grace Maternity Hospital?  Because in 1906 some followers of Jesus
decided that there should be a hospital in Halifax where “Fallen women” could
have their babies safely and with dignity. 
Because they remembered how Jesus treated “fallen women”.  And those Jesus followers did the job so well
that when the city of Halifax decided to start a dedicated maternity
institution they asked the Jesus Followers to start it and the Salvation Army
called it the Grace Maternity Hospital. 
In the second and third
centuries two plagues hit the known world and historical reports tell us that
up to 1/3 of large cities were dying.  
That the population was so overwhelmed that the dead were simply thrown
into the streets, and eventually not just the dead but the dying where thrown
into the street. 
And we have historical footage  (video clip from Monty Python’s Holy Grail,
Bring out your dead scene)  That wasn’t
actually historical footage, but we do have a historical account.
Dionysius a Bishop of the
early church wrote this  “Most of our
brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves
and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger they took charge of the
sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with
them departed life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease.”  Why would they do that?  Because they remembered the stories of Jesus
who would touch those who were considered untouchable.
It is why the first hospitals
were started by Jesus Followers in Monasteries and even today have names like
Saint Judes and St. Joseph’s and St. Elsewhere. 
Because for two thousand years those who have taken the name of Christ
read the stories in the Gospels where Jesus saw the sick and had compassion on
them, saw the lepers and touched them, even when others wouldn’t and they
remembered how Jesus healed people. 
When the disciples of John came
to Jesus to ask if he was the messiah Jesus told them in Luke 7:22 Then he told
John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and
heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the
dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”   And the followers of Jesus still do it
today.  When I travel through Africa the
majority of hospitals and clinics have been built by Christian churches.  Not all of them but most of them.  And those that were started by other groups
were started because of the example set by the Christian Church and it’s always
been that way.
Remember how the early Christ
followers ministered during the Plagues in Rome?  Here is an excerpt from the book “The Rise of
Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History” “Thus, a century later, the emperor
Julian launched a campaign to institute pagan charities in an effort to match
the Christians.  Julian complained in a
letter to the high priest of Galatia in 362 that the pagans needed to equal the
virtues of Christians, for recent Christian growth was caused by their “moral
character, even if pretended,” and by their benevolence toward strangers and
care for the graves of the dead.”
And because a Jesus Follower by
the name of Tommy Douglas remembered how concerned Jesus was with the ill he thought
it was important for all Canadians to have access to medical care. 
But it wasn’t just for the poor
and the sick that Jesus makes a difference. 
Sometimes the church has been seen
as anti-women, but Without Jesus Women
Would be Viewed Differently
When Jesus was born historians
tell us that for every 100 women there were 140 men.  Why? 
Because boy children were worth more than female children and so often
when a girl child was born she was set outside and allowed to die.  And that imbalance continues in Countries
like China and India today.
One historian records a
chilling letter from a pagan husband to his wife: “Know that I am still in
Alexandria…. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon
as I received payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered (before I
come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it.”
Under Roman law fathers were
required to raise all healthy male children but were only required to keep
their first daughter, any others were disposable.  Women had no rights, they were considered
mere property of their husbands.  A man
could have his wife killed for committing adultery but the only time a man was
punished was when he committed adultery with another man’s wife and the other
man demanded punishment.
And yet the longest personal
conversation that we have a record of Jesus having is with a woman, in John
chapter four.   And he talked to her as
an equal, which wasn’t the norm of the day but seemed to be the norm for Jesus
because he never hesitated to talk to women and defend women.  And when the early followers of Christ
gathered together in groups called churches many of those identified as leaders
were women.
And because of how Jesus
treated women one of his followers wrote Galatians
3:26-28
For you are all children of God
through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in
baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes. There
is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all
one in Christ Jesus.  That was
radical. 
And at that time a man could
divorce his wife simply by saying “I divorce you”  but Jesus and his church decreed that men
could no longer simply divorce their wives for just any reason but only for the
ultimate betrayal, adultery. 
And Jesus never commanded that
woman should cover themselves from head to toe and hide away from men, instead
he told men to respect them and not look on them as objects.
If we go back to the movie some
say that town of Bedford Falls was modeled after the town of Seneca Falls in
NY, which you may remember was the site of the First Women’s Rights Convention
in the US.  Happened in 1848 and was held
in the Wesleyan Church, why?  Because
Jesus followers remembered that Jesus treated women as equals and the early
church said “There is no longer male and female.  For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And because Jesus followers
remembered how Jesus valued women we have organization like the Dean Brody
Foundation and World Hope battling the exploitation of girls and women
developing countries. 
But it wasn’t only people who
were impacted by the birth of Jesus.
Do you remember the last
command of Jesus?  Sure you do.  It’s found in Matthew 28:19 where Jesus told
his followers to do three things.  1)
Make disciples  2) Baptize those
disciples, which is why if you are a disciple you need to be baptized and
January 6th would be an awesome opportunity and 3) They were to
teach those disciples.  When the first
church was described in the book of Acts it is recorded that they devoted
themselves to the Apostle’s Teaching and not just men and boys but women and
girls.  Without Jesus Education Would be Viewed Differently 
There had always been
education, but it had been reserved for wealthy privileged males.  In AD 150 a man who followed Jesus by the
name of Justin Martyr opened a school, and there he taught, men and women, free
and slaves.  And because of that the
Romans had him beheaded. 
And for the past two thousand
years the church has been at the forefront of not only teaching knowledge but
also in preserving knowledge.  Why?  Because they remembered when Jesus was asked
what the greatest commandment was his reply was not only to love God with all
of our hearts but with all of our minds as well. 
And so learning about everything
was seen by many in the church as a means of helping believers know more about
the God who created everything. 
Which is why Augustine
said “A person
who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord,
wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature,
but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though
they knew God did not glorify him as God…”
There is sometimes a feeling
the church is anti-intellectual and yet when Rome collapsed and the barbarians
overran the Roman Empire and the scrolls and manuscripts that contained the
classics of ancient civilizations were in danger of being lost, it was in
Christian communities called monasteries that those documents were
painstakingly copied and preserved by hand. 
Because a man named Jesus told his followers to love God with all their
minds.
And these monasteries became
places of learning and eventually formed schools called Universities all over
Europe and Asia.   And within six years
of the Puritans landing in the New World 
they established a school whose motto translated into English was “Truth for
Christ and the Church.”  You might
recognize the name of the school, it was called Harvard.  As a matter of fact ninety two percent of the
first 138 institutions of higher learning in the United States were founded by
churches.
Closer to home, of the ten
Universities in Nova Scotia four were started by the Catholic Church, one by
the Anglicans, one by the Baptist and one by the Methodists.   In New Brunswick of the eight universities
one was started by the Catholic Church, one by the Baptist, one by the
Anglicans,one was Methodist, one was Wesleyan and one was
non-denominational.  Love God with all
your mind.  
Most people know about Sunday
School, but how many of you know that it was started in 1780 by a Jesus
follower as a mean to teach children of common people how to read and
write.  In that day and age children
worked 6 days a week and his dream was to give them an opportunity on the
seventh day to learn regardless of how much or how little they had.  And within 50 years we are told that there
were 160,000 Jesus Followers teaching 1.5 million children how to read and
write and how to love God with all their minds. 
And it was the church which
developed alphabets, and dictionaries and developed written music so songs of
worship could be shared around the world. 
Love God with all your minds.
As I got into this message I
realized that I was into much more than one message could handle, and to quote John 21:25 Jesus also did many other things.
If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the
books that would be written.
But the most important question
today isn’t: What difference has Jesus made in the world? but what difference
has Jesus made in your life?