A couple of days ago, I was listening to a radio program on which the hosts were discussing the greatest Christmas movie of all time. They were actually debating whether “Christmas Story”, “Elf” or “Christmas Vacation” is the greatest… and I couldn’t believe it. To me, the discussion begins and ends with “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” can come on and no matter whether it’s at the beginning, middle or end, I can just watch and enjoy it. And it’s so layered and the characters are so interesting that every time I view it, I see something new in it. Most recently, when I watched it, I noticed that George Bailey’s words depicted one thing while his actions another. If you only listened to “It’s a Wonderful Life” you might think one way about George. But observing what he actually does suggests something altogether different.
His words, often about his hometown, Bedford Falls, or the business his family ran, the Building and Loan, and about the many characters in town like Old Man Potter, Violet Biggs, Mr. Gower the druggist, and others… would suggest disdain, frustration, and anger. George had set his sights on bigger things, but life and circumstance kept him planted right there in Bedford Falls.
But then there are his actions. Actions toward others… actions which consistently demonstrated love, compassion and a deep and unwavering concern. It was his actions that led him to become “the richest man in town”, not his words.
There are words. And then there are actions.
You could say the same about anyone really. You could say that about you and me. And sometimes our words and our actions line up perfectly. Sometimes they do not.
Tonight, at this Midnight Mass, we move forward together… from the time of waiting to the time of arrival, from anticipation to occurrence, from darkness to light. Prophets foretold of a great and mighty savior, of one who would come to conquer. There were words about all this and lots of them. But then the word became flesh.
Now let’s consider the actions.
This all began when it was first revealed to a teenager, a young woman who said: “let it be done to me.” The great and mighty creator God came into this world based on the yes of one young peasant woman. It was even dependent upon it.
And then there was a moment in a manger, in the company of barnyard animals. The great and mighty creator God came into this world as the most vulnerable of things. As an infant. An infant creator God… dependent, completely, upon what he created. Great and mighty enters in the form of humility, dependency, a true state of lowliness.
These are the actions. This how it all went down.
It’s now a few thousand years later and here we are in the middle of the night, celebrating darkness turned to light. What do the actions of God reveal to us about this light, about our faith.
I think it could suggest that if we are hoping that faith will enter into our lives and take a strong hold of it in a great and mighty way, well… it might not happen exactly that way. It might enter gently, delicately. It might be vulnerable… like an infant. It might ask for our participation. The power of the creator could seek to take hold inside of us the created in the way a small and delicate seed takes hold in soil. We have to cultivate, to care, to tend. It’s active, not passive.
This all doesn’t just happen to us. It happens with us.
On this night many years ago, darkness became light and word became flesh. Human hands lifted it up, held it tightly, cared for it, protected it, defended it. Helped it to grow so that it could come into the world and transform it.
It is Christmas. And it is time for action.