Peninsula Community Church
Its a Wonderful Life – Part 3
December 20, 2015
Luke 2:25-32 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
Over the last couple of weeks we have been using the movie Its a Wonderful Life as a basis of discussion for our Sunday morning messages. So far we have looked at the question of What if Jesus had Never Been Born. Last week, we looked at how disappointment and discouragement can impact our lives. This week, I would like to close the series by looking at three Biblical lessons that resonate throughout Its a Wonderful Life that exemplify the Christmas story.
One of the lessons we learn is that the story of Christmas teaches us that God chooses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. You see it is hard to live a wonderful life when we are trying to be something we are not. It is hard to live a wonderful life when we are looking at the successes of others and miss what God is doing in and through us. In preparing for this message I came across a quote by Jimmy Stewart. When he was an old man he was interviewed about his reflections on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and this is what he had to say. “Today, after some 50 years, I’ve heard the film called ‘an American cultural phenomenon.’ Well, maybe so, but it seems to me there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It’s simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and a selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life.” How true that is.
Throughout the Christmas story we find that God used ordinary people to accomplish His will. He used Mary, a young teenage girl. He used Joseph a innocent young man. He uses Simeon to bless the family and to bless Jesus the Christ child. You see we don’t have to be exceptional or extraordinary but we have to be available to be used by God. We don’t have to be perfect but we have to be willing to do the best we can. We can be certain of one thing, God chooses the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. Simeon was an old man who did nothing extraordinary except live a righteous and dedicated life in Jerusalem. And yet we find him positioned to bless the family of Christ. He is directed by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple. There he met the mother and father of Jesus as they fulfilled the ordinary customs of the Jewish law. They brought Jesus to be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. In the intersection of ordinary events, God brought their lives together. The text tells us, “Simeon took Jesus into his arms and he praised God.” Simeon then blessed Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. The ordinary met the extraordinary.
One of the story lines of Its Wonderful Life is that George Bailey was always focused outside of Bedford Falls. He was discontented with his place in Bedford Falls because he always thought that his success would be achieved outside of Bedford Falls. He felt that only by leaving Bedford Falls could he be successful and complete. What he forgot and we often forget is that God uses us right where are. Listen to what Colonel Potter from the M.A.S.H. television series had to say. “I’ve spent 18 Christmases away from Mildred. It took me 15 of them to realize I was making myself miserable by wishing I was someplace I wasn’t. If you ain’t where you are, you’re no place.”
The idea here is that we can waste our life away wishing we were somewhere else or doing something else. Notice Simeon bloomed where he was planted. By being patience and obedient he witnessed the arrival of the Messiah. In this intersection of lives God blesses Simeon and he had the privilege of blessing the family of Jesus and Jesus Himself. Can you imagine the excitement of Simeon to know that he would have a role to play in the life of the Messiah? He would be the first one to bless this baby. This ordinary man was one of the first people to honor Christ as the Messiah.
The second lesson teaches us that to have a wonderful life we must put others first. One of the overarching qualities in George Bailey’s life is that he continually put others first. He often did this to the point of personal sacrifice. In 1919 when he was twelve years old he was sledding with some of his buddies. His little brother Harry liked to tag along with the older boys. When he took his turn on the ice, Harry’s sled went too far and slipped into a hole in the ice pond. He would have drowned if George had not jumped in to save him. But in saving him it cost George the loss of hearing in his left ear. Through out the movie, we find George putting others first. We see him using his own money to help others and to keep his bank solvent. We see him having to change his plans when his father dies and his brother heads off to college. This is not to say that we have to live in abject failure to be be successful, it is a matter of our attitude and our heart.
The Christmas story is really a story of putting others first. Jesus modeled this as it was Jesus who left the glory of heaven to become a man (John 6:38), who would be subjected to everything a human was subjected to. He was tempted but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus came to give Himself so we could be free. He came to die so we could live. How awesome is that? He lived as a servant and He came to serve others (Mark 10:45) and not to Lord over them (Matthew 20:25-28). That is selflessness and that leads to a wonderful life.
This leads us to our third lesson. To have a wonderful life we must confront temptation with our values and our integrity. We must settle our moral values because without our values being settled we will be tempted to be diverted from the truth. In the movie, Its a Wonderful Life, on several occasions George Bailey was called upon by Mr. Potter to compromise his beliefs, his character and his values. George could have had the financial blessing of Mr. Potter but in so doing he would have had to give up his rights to who he was and to what he had been called to do. Mr Potter’s motivation was not to help George as much as it was to control George and eventually have control of the whole community.
The struggle presented here is not so much between good and evil, but between good and better. It is a struggle between the ambition to do good and the challenge to do God’s will. Bailey was a man of great ambition, someone who wanted to travel to distant lands, build expansive bridges over large bodies of water, and lasso the moon for his girlfriend. Instead, he would merely give her a drafty old house, four mouths to feed, and a life in a small town with little money. He was tempted with offers to give her a higher standard of living, but that would mean abandoning the call on his life and compromising his integrity.
Think about this the baby Jesus held by Simeon would face severe temptation when he became an adult (Matthew 4:1-11). We learn from the story of Jesus that He was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin. You see, temptation is not a measure of your weakness; temptation is a measure of your strength. You will find that the basis of all temptation is to compromise our integrity and to lessen our trust in God to keep us and guide us. You see, for Jesus to turn the stones into bread was not merely a temptation to satisfy his hunger after forty days of fasting, it was a temptation to abuse the powers God had given him for his own purposes. Jumping off the pinnacle of the tabernacle wasn’t a temptation just to draw a bigger crowd, it was a temptation to build a ministry on miracles rather than on the grace and mercy of God. The temptation to have dominion over the world was a powerful temptation to take a shortcut to glory and power. Jesus was offered short term authority for long term disappointment if he would only bow down to Satan. Jesus was offered something good (food, followers, power), but it was at the price of the perfect will of his Father in heaven. And it should be noted that all that was offered to Him, He already had. He did not have to compromise His beliefs or His values.
Real temptation is the kind that George Bailey faced, and it is the kind that Jesus faced, and it is the same temptation we are faced with. It’s when we are confronted by the devil, only the devil isn’t dressed in a red cape with horns. A wonderful life comes by overcoming the temptations to receive good things when God wants you to have better things. You see, God wants us to look at life and answer the question, “What does God want from me? What is God’s will for my life?” I don’t know what the answer is for you, but I do know that if you’re not deliberate and intentional about asking the question you’re likely to accept any offer that is pretty and pleasing to the eye. God wants you to understand who you are, what you’re all about, and what God’s will is for you. If you can discover those great gifts, you will deliver a death blow to the Mr. Potters in your life who dangle tantalizing trinkets in front of your eyes.
We will always have Potters in our lives. But we can resist the Potters and accept the Christ, the chosen one. He is Messiah and he has a plan. What is yours? If you don’t know what that is then this is the time to find out. Sometimes it is as easy as being faithful to what you are doing now. Be the best at what you do. Be the best administrative assistant. Be the best attorney. Be the best father, mother, sister, brother, or husband. Let God use you. Watch for those opportunities that God provides for you. The fact is we minister best when we don’t even realize it. How does this happen? We seek God! We seek to honor God with our lives! And we seek to be a people of peace, love and grace. That is the message of Its a Wonderful Life and that is the message of Christmas. May we live it and may we make a difference today.
For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14
Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom