The essential movie around this time of year is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey has it all, a beautiful wife, children, and a successful job. He’s got a good reputation, loyal friends and everything a guy could ask for. But his bank takes a nose dive. He loses just a few thousand dollars and, despite all his blessings, he is convinced the only way out is to throw himself over a bridge and end it all.
Before he can hurl his body into an icy river His guardian angel Clarence stops him, and Clarence gives George Baily his wish – to have never been born. Then Clarence shows him what his little town, and his own family looked like without him – and it wasn’t a pretty picture. His town was a slum, his wife was a lonely and frightened mess, his children non-existent. Altogether the world was a darker place. George Bailey begins to beg God for his life back. He pleads for a second chance. And he gets it.
Things are back as they ought to be. George Bailey is alive, back from the dead. Bedford Falls is brighter. He throws open the door to his house and he walks in overjoyed into a warm and cheery home to loud shouts of celebration. He has only been gone a few short hours but his children run to him, his wife embraces him, and showers him with kisses. His bank is not fixed yet but he’s still a hero. His friends from town soon pour into the house and give money to save the bank, and restore his livelihood. But the bank, his livelihood, that doesn’t really matter – it’s not really important. Because George Bailey is home.
Nobody at the end of their life says, I wish I could have made more money. Nobody on their death bed says “I wish my business could have been more successful.” People don’t even say things like “I wish I could have traveled more or seen more of the world.” Generally they say “I wish I could have seen more of my children or grandchildren.” “I wish I could have told my friend what they meant to me.” Fathers don’t wish they could have climbed higher in their work or ambitions, they generally just wish they would have spent more hours on their hands and knees with their sons.
When George Bailey was ready to throw himself into the icy water to end his life, he lacked one thing. Thankfulness. All he saw was a ruined family business and thought that life itself was over.
You see, even if we are not considering throwing ourselves overboard, we all do stupid things when we no longer thankful for what we have. When we have no gratitude we become irritable. We take other people for granted. We find fault too easily. We become overly critical of the people whom God has placed in our lives, our friends, our spouses, our children, or the people we work with.
This is the time of year, where God calls us to reset our spiritual lives. Already with another early winter coming on folks are already talking about another propane shortage like last year. How will we stay warm and safe? Yet what if we were equally concerned about a shortage of thankfulness and gratitude – which alone can warm our hearts and soften our souls with joy.
Obviously life is not like a black and white feel good movie from the 1940’s. And maybe George Bailey’s financial ruin pales in comparison to the sufferings that you have been through. But the same message applies to you. Our community here, your family, this congregation is better off with you rather than without you. Like George Bailey, no matter what your position in life, things are brighter with you. You are needed here.
You are probably a bit like George Bailey too. You are overly worried about your future. You fret and fume and worry. You forget your blessings and think a few thousand dollars might be the end of you too. And maybe at one point, just as a fleeting thought, you too thought about taking that dive into the icy deeps. But remember that Jesus has already been thrown overboard into the whale of death for you to save your life. Like Jonah he took your place. But he was spit up on the third day – resurrected – fresh from the grave, alive from the belly of the earth. He was dead but now lives.
Your sins have been paid for, even your ingratitude. Your mistrust, your worries, and doubts about God’s love. All that is forgiven. Your life is redeemed. Your life is pleasing to God. You are valued and appreciated. You are loved.
In tonight’s Gospel Jesus heals Ten Lepers and only one turns back to give God any thanks at all. Which is to say, thankfulness has always been in short supply. But for you, who turn to God in faith tonight. It is still a wonderful life. Because it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you.
Tomorrow is a great day to count your blessings – to be grateful. You’ll have family, the NFL, Macy’s parade, turkey, stuffing, brandy, and tryptophan.
But these things all pass. Thanksgiving is only one day. Friends and family leave. You return to an empty home. The Packers can’t go the superbowl every year and the leftovers in the fridge eventually run out. But your one best blessing yet remains. You belong to Christ. His blessings are not for one day but for all eternity.
Tonight you are in the perfect place to count your blessings. Because you come to the family table with the whole people of God. To thank God for what He has done by sending His Son to save you from our sins. Like George Bailey you are alive, back from the dead, rescued by angels, and returned home- to the kingdom of heaven where true joys are found.
Everything is restored and you realize like George Bailey that your life has more meaning than what you ever thought. Because in Christ, it is and always will be a Wonderful Life.