One of our Christmas traditions as a family is to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Even though I have almost all the lines memorized, I still love to watch it. The movie opens a window to one man’s life—a rather ordinary one, a life that often fell short of what George Bailey dreamed of doing. Decisions and disappointments set the course of George’s life, and in a time of great despair, he attempts to end his life.
But through the intervention of an unlikely angel, George Bailey gets to see what his world would be like if he had never been born. It would be a darker, angrier, more hostile place. Friends are strangers. An overgrown cemetery covers the place where George had once built homes and helped families. In the end, he sees that life is worth living. He has made a difference despite life’s disappointments. He has a wonderful life.
It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t a Christmas story as such, but the idea behind it is instructive to consider this Christmas season: Imagine if Christ had not been born. Imagine the unbroken night, despair, and lostness.
In Ephesians 2, Paul describes that hopeless, Christless condition in no uncertain terms: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins . . . following the prince of the power of the air . . . sons of disobedience . . . children of wrath” (vv. 1–3). Yet, praise God, Christ did come and accomplished all His saving purposes. That is how after this catalog of misery there is a hinge of grace that opens to a cascade of mercy:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (vv. 4–5, emphasis added)
What would the world be like if Christ had not come? Just go to the lands that have yet to be reached with the gospel, and you will see it in the faces of the people there. Closer to home, we can see it in the lives of families, neighbors, and strangers who do not yet know Christ, the One who is the true and only “comfort in life and death” (Heidelberg Catechism 1).
Here is where God has given us work to do—in speaking to others of our wonderful Savior. Charles Spurgeon spoke forcefully on this point to comfortably indifferent Christians: “You that are letting hell fill beneath you and yet are too idle to stretch out your hands to pluck brands from the eternal burning. . . . Strong faith must be an exercised faith.”
And so, with fresh gratitude over the costly grace we’ve been shown and with boundless joy over the mercy of Jesus that “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13), let us then “speak to the people all of the words of this life” (Acts 5:20).