The Life Giver

The wrapping paper’s on the floor.
That moment of giving is no more.
This year’s Christmas is now gone past.
What now remains is the gift that lasts.

The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” became a classic Christmas film.  Christmastime is the setting at the beginning and end.  But it’s not about Christmas presents though it is about giving.

George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) learned about life from his father, Peter, who ran the town building and loan. In contrast to the rich and miserly Potter who owned the bank and abused the townsfolk, Peter told George, “I feel that in a small way we are doing something important.  It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof, and we’re helping get those things in our shabby little office.”

After Peter passed unexpectedly, Potter insulted the man while arguing to close the building and loan.  George responded, “In the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter.”

To keep the family business open, George assumed his father’s position.  It cost him his lifelong dream of hearing anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles, and building airfields, skyscrapers, and bridges. He stayed home while Harry went to college.

In one scene the flirty Violet, a lifelong friend, needed a new start in life.  George helped her with the means to go to New York.  Her response? “I’m glad I know you, George Bailey.”

Near the end of the movie, George found himself in a crisis not of his making.  While contemplating a leap off the bridge, he realized how many lives he had touched in Bedford Falls.  With renewed enthusiasm for life, he returned to his family.  When news spread that George was in crisis, his friends rushed to help.

Jesus said, “Give that which is within as a charitable gift” (Luke 11:41).  As portrayed by George Bailey, that means humility, service, and putting others before self.  It means authentic friendships.  That’s far more than seasonal Christmas giving.  That is being a life giver, someone people are glad to know.  By faith, you are especially equipped with something to offer.  “Those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).

Christmas is a celebration of God’s great gift.  “The gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).  Join with the saints in saying, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).  This gift of life in Christ, the gift that lasts, equips you as a life giver.

Peace to You

“In Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” – Jesus

Last week, I gained a new appreciation for Christmas and all it means.  It happened in the middle of the night.  I had traveled to another state, and was asleep in a nice hotel room.  But nice can change in a twinkling, even around 1 a.m.  I awoke with a start.  A couple yelled at each other just outside my door.  Expletives and accusations flew. Should I call the front desk, or 911? Mercifully, after a few long minutes a slammed door ended the chaos.

How sad.  What could cause such torment that this couple would forfeit any consideration for each other, and the people around them?  The contrast with Christmas was startling. They had punctuated this season of love and giving with selfishness and dissension.

Shepherds were minding their business in a nice pasture.  In a twinkling, an angel and a multitude of the heavenly host pierced the night.  Their announcement was short.  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Of all the transcendent meaning packed into that, it also offers a reason not to scream in a hotel hallway.  Peace on earth means peace to you for whatever your circumstances might be.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,” the carol says.  To that world the angels announced the birth of Jesus who was the embodiment of peace.  One Bible word for peace is “shalom,” which means to be whole, at rest, tranquil.  As a man, that is what Jesus displayed and offered to His followers even though He knew crucifixion awaited Him the next day.  He said, “Peace I leave you; My peace I give you” (John 14:27).  After His death He visited them saying, “Peace with you” (John 20:19).  Jesus clearly understood that you need peace, especially with God. In fact, “He Himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).

What does Christmas mean to you?  By faith, do you know the peace of Christ?  If you do, then you have a peace that can displace the angst of elections, fears of COVID, and the loneliness of memories.  You have a deep pool of resources to help you recall the past with tranquility and face the future with confidence.  The world offers much tribulation.  But when you, friend, find your place in the Peace of Christmas, it changes your outlook in this life because your soul is reconciled to its Creator for eternity.  Isn’t that merry?

The angels announced it.  The shepherds witnessed it.  “O night divine, O night when Christ was born!”  The world would never be the same, for in that first Christmas God stepped into the world He created to bring His Peace to you.

Abiding Joy

Joy is a theme of Christmas.  “Joy to the World” the carol proclaims!  But why is it that joy can seem so elusive?

We pine for happier times.  The COVID virus and the economic shutdown have affected so many families.  Some are avoiding traditional family gatherings this year.  Even worse, this may be your first Christmas without a loved one.  Life happens, and can steal your joy.  Or not!  I submit to you that happiness and joy are different.  Suffering hides happiness, but joy abides in sadness.

British theologian Jo Vitale writes, “What sets joy apart is, whereas happiness is dependent upon our circumstances, biblical joy is experienced in defiance of the circumstances.”  The Psalmist thanked God saying, “You have turned my mourning into dancing for me. You have untied my sackcloth and encircled me with joy” (Psa. 30:11).  Jesus’ followers experienced this, too.  After a flogging for speaking about Jesus, they went on their way “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and preaching the good news of Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-32).  That is the abiding joy that keeps you living with purpose.

You have reason to live with joy despite your circumstances.  Jesus said, “Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  Sadness doesn’t change the joy that is yours by faith.  Peter writes, “Though you do not see Him now but believe in Him you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible (1 Pet. 1:8).

Jesus changed the circumstances of the world, and in your life.  In the words of Tolkien’s character Sam Gamgee, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” “A great shadow has departed,” Gandalf said, and then he laughed.  If there’s a sadness that has become untrue, it is the hopelessness of evil and separation from God.  Jesus overcame those so that joy may abide in you.

How can you have this joy?  C. S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”  Abiding joy is what God offers.  It does not exist apart from Him. Then consider this:  Jesus “has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  So if joy comes from the Lord and He seeks you, then it follows that you don’t have to pursue happiness because a greater Joy is in pursuit of you!  Respond to the cry of the carol, “Let every heart prepare him room”!

Joy isn’t elusive when you realize it’s not an emotion, but a Person.  By faith, Christ Jesus lives in you (Gal. 2:20).  His Christmas gift to you is Himself, your Abiding Joy.

Coming of Age

That year, I felt bold enough to make a trip to Santa’s chair – on my own.  Under the watchful eye of my parents I had already presented Santa my predetermined list.  But as I roamed the department store, my eyes landed on a battery powered airplane.  I powered my way back to Santa.  I petitioned for a revision to our pending transaction.  “OK, but you need to make sure you tell your Mom what you just told me!”  To be “good,” I had to do what he said, but I left wondering why she needed to know.  And so began a line of inquiry that hastened my coming of age.

The birth of Jesus and the appearance of Santa Claus are linked by tradition.  With tender care, a parent can tease apart truth and myth when a child raises an inquiry into these things.  To some, God will always be the one who makes a list and checks it twice, who knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. So if you’re good nice things happen. That might be the transactional myth of Santa Claus, but it is an errant caricature of Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Consider four differences.  (1) Santa comes by stealth after dark.  Jesus is “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9).  He meant to be seen and heard. (2) Santa only shows up once a year.  Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).  (3) Some children are warned that Santa gives a lump of coal if they’ve been bad.  We are all bad, so one wonders by what standard Santa judges badness.  Jesus said, “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).  (4) Children are encouraged to focus on what Santa brings, not Santa himself.  Jesus offers friendship with God, “who reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18).

As a child, I didn’t question the transactional nature of my dealings with Santa.    Santa gives earned rewards, not gifts.  Big difference!  Our Father offers a transformational gift.  “The gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).  When you receive that gift by faith, the Light of Christmas fills your life and you are not the same.  C. S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Just a few years after my enlightenment about Santa, that true Light cast the shadows from my soul.  I believed in the Christ of Christmas and Calvary.  That was the coming of age that mattered.