I didn't see It's a Wonderful Life until I was in either high school or college. I always knew as that black and white movie that came on Christmas day. I had caught bits and pieces along the way to know it involved angels getting wings and Jimmy Stewart talking on the phone while standing very close to a lady, but that's about it. I missed out on an incredible movie. If you haven't seen It's a Wonderful Life and don't want it spoiled you should probably stop right here.
There is a scene in Frank Capra's classic film that resonates with me different and how I understand Christmas. Stewart's George Bailey was considering jumping off of a bridge figuring that it would have been better had he never been born. A wingless angel named Clarence stops George from leaping to his death and shows the would-be jumper the void that would exist in the lives of George's loved ones and his hometown if he didn't exist. Having experienced his existenceless existence, George returns to bridge that nearly marked the end of his life. Sobbing, George prays out loud:
Please! I wanna live again. I wanna live again. Please God, let me live again.
There is a rawness and desperation in George's voice. More than anything else, he wants to be alive. The happy ending is not "Every time a bell rings and angel gets his wings." That's the heartwarming ending. The happy ending, or perhaps the good news, is that God listens to that desperate prayer on the bridge. Of course, living is what God wanted George to do in the first place.
At the end of the year, we typically take stock of our lives. I know that I do. And I have yet to come to a year where I looked at myself and thought, "Yep, I'm good." More often than not, I see parts of me that are cold and gray, dead and dying. It would be easy to give up; give up on following God, give up on loving those around me. This is an annual occurrence after all. Yet George Bailey's desperate prayer often rings in my ears: Please God, let me live again.
Advent is a time in which we await new birth; a new life that changes the story. Death seemed inevitable and then the birth of a baby turned the tide. In "O Little Town of Bethlehem," we ask that child to be born in us today. When Christ is born in us, God lets us live again. And though life may indeed continue to be difficult even after that and even though we may find ourselves praying George Bailey's prayer many times over, the grace of God giving us a new birth makes for a wonderful life.