One of my favorite Christmas films is Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” My family and I watched it many times as I was growing up. Call me sentimental if you must, but I can’t help but grow misty eyed when protagonist George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who has been given the opportunity to see what his little community would have become had he never been born, realizes what a gift life is and that his life has actually made a difference to many. “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a feel-good movie that reminds me that we are doing more good than we realize.
In the literary genre of “Alternative History,” writers create fascinating works of fiction by posing a different outcome in key historical moments: What if Grant hadn’t won the battle of Gettysburg? What if Germany had won World War II? What if George McFly didn’t kiss Lorraine at the homecoming dance in “Back to the Future?”
So reflect with me about “Emmanuel,” a name given to Jesus in Matthew 1:23 that means “God with us.” I’ve been asking myself what the world might look like today had Jesus never been born. What if Bethlehem’s manger was empty? What if instead of God’s presence in Jesus Christ, there was simply a historical absence, an empty void?
Absent Jesus of Nazareth, the past 2000 years of world history would have undoubtedly been worse. Carlton Hayes has this to say about the difference Jesus has made in our world: “From the wellsprings of Christian compassion, our Western civilization has drawn its inspiration, and its sense of duty, for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, looking after the homeless, clothing the naked, tending the sick, and visiting the prisoner.” George Grant writes, “as missionaries circled the globe … They established hospitals. They founded orphanages. They started rescue missions. They built almshouses. They opened soup kitchens. They incorporated charitable societies. They changed laws. They demonstrated love. They lived as if people mattered.”
Had Jesus never come, this world would be much worse off, especially for children, slaves, and women. His absence alone would account for much additional evil, misery, and injustice around our world. Or to put it positively, Jesus’ presence in human history has made a world of difference. And with that thought, I bid you all a very merry Christmas indeed!