Monday, December 19, 2011

"...But the Lord was with Joseph" (and George Bailey too!)

Christmas time is here my friends, that special time of the year where we bake exorbitant amounts of cookies, buy gifts for our family and friends, decorate both the inside and outside of our houses and [hopefully] spend time reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas, which is of course the birth of our savior Jesus Christ!

One of my family’s other traditions involves watching several Christmas movies on a yearly basis, and one of our all time favorites would have to be “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Over the years, as I have watched this movie, I am always moved [like most people I’m guessing] by the ending. However, last year I began to realize that George Bailey’s whole life reflected and paralleled the life of the Old Testament Biblical hero Joseph, in a couple of different ways.

For example, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt a land that he certainly would never have chosen to reside within, as they were a pagan nation that did not in any way worship the true God of Israel. (see Genesis 37) George Bailey from the beginning of the movie states that he wanted to ‘shake the dust of this small town’ of Bedford Falls and live in a big city where he could ‘build things.’ However, due to his father’s early death, George is instead stuck in Bedford Falls managing his father’s small building and loan business, where he probably felt like a slave in some ways, though he certainly was not in an horrendous a situation as Joseph, because he still was surrounded by family and friends.

As many of you who know Joseph’s story probably know, God was still with Joseph in Egypt, even when he was wrongfully accused of seducing his master’s wife and thrown in jail (Genesis 39:11-23). George Bailey suffers being wrongfully accused of stealing his businesses money by a bank examiner, because his Uncle and business partner Billy accidentally allowed the money to slip into the hands of the movie’s villain Henry F. Potter, who instead of returning the money, keeps it in an attempt to bring George and his business down! However, the same could be said of George that the Bible tells us about Joseph, the Lord was with him.

This we see in a number of ways. To begin with, we are shown that all of George’s friends and family are praying for him as he is rushing around town in Christmas Eve night in a panicked frenzy trying to come up with the 8,000 dollars he has ‘lost.’ This is from a Biblical perspective, exactly what we are supposed to do when one of our brothers or sisters is in distress. The Apostle Paul teaches us in 1 Timothy 2:1 “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” (ESV) That means that we should pray for others in our lives. Moreover, James 5:14-15 teaches us that “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call upon the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith, will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” I believe this can apply not only to physical illness, but any sort of anguish that one is going through, and in this movie George is certainly going through mental anguish.

In fact, George himself prays to God on his own behalf, asking that He ‘show me the way Lord.” It is at this point that Clarence, George’s guarding angel arrives on the scene, and shows him that his life has been a life that has been well lived. Clarence of course does this in the unorthodox fashion of granting George’s angrily expressed wish of “I wish I had never been born.”

This then, allows George to see all the ways his life has touched the lives of those around him in the small town of Bedford Falls. His brother would have drowned at age nine. The building and loan business would have closed decades earlier, and a fact that is easy to miss in the movie, the plastics factory that George had urged his friend Sam Wainwright to build in Bedford Falls during the Great Depression, and provided hundreds of jobs for its residents in the process, would never have existed! In many ways, George had saved his small town from becoming a horrendous and depressing place to live!

Remember Joseph in Genesis, he did something similar in Egypt. You see, because God’s hand of favor was so strongly on his life, God allowed the Pharaoh to have a prophetic dream, that only Joseph could interpret through his God given gift of dream interpretation. This not only got Joseph out of jail, but also allowed him to be promoted to second in command under Pharaoh! All of that was because Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream to mean Egypt would have seven years of great crops, followed by seven years of famine. Thus, Egypt stored up a lot of extra crops during those seven years of plenty, and became the epicenter for providing thousands of people food who probably would have other wised perished from starvation! Think how bad life would have been in Egypt and the surrounding lands if Joseph had never been born!

To close let’s bring things back to George. He had spent his life modeling Paul’s command in Ephesians 4:1b-3 to “walk in manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It was now finally his friends’ turn to take all of the gentleness, patience, and humility that he had shown towards them over the years and turn it back towards his direction. The did this initially by uplifting him in prayer, and then took action and began donating as much money as they could possibly afford to replace the $8000 that had been lost!

Indeed while the writers of “It’s A Wonderful Life” may not have intended for it to, I’ve always felt that this film shows what true community looks like, and what the Church should truly model to the world. We are called to be a ‘city on a hill’ (Matt. 5:16) that is visibly different to on looking world, and there is no better way to shine brightly on that hill than by fulfilling a need of a fellow Believer in dire straits!

Merry Christmas everyone!

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