REVISITED: Entertaining Angels

Read Hebrews 13:1-2

Entertaining Angels

My family and I just got done watching a movie we watch annually during the Christmas season. If you haven’t guessed it by looking at the picture, the movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. It is a movie about a man (George Bailey) who has given and given to people, putting others ahead of himself and his own dreams, only to have other people’s mistakes crash down around him. None of his dreams of success, traveling or any other ones are ever realized. Sure he has a nice family, a lovely wife and kids, and sure he has had moments of joy in helping those around him. But deep down, there is a longing to have more, to be more, to finally have something he’s dreamed of come true.

But this is real life we are talking about, not some tinsel town fairy tale, and Capra makes to give George a whopping double dose of reality. Instead of finding Bailey being rewarded for all of his kindness and generosity, instead of seeing him defeat the Scrooge like miser, Mr. Potter, and instead of seeing him amount to be more than a guy who nickels and dimes his way through life (literally), we find George facing fraud charges and prison time. His uncle lost $8,000 and George is going to take the fall for it, just as he has his whole life. It’s just not fair. So, this man, at wit’s end, finds himself at a bridge. He’s contemplating suicide, when he runs into Clarence, who is an Angel 2nd class. After wishing he were never born, and Clarence granting him that wish, he comes to the realization how hellish life would be for the countless people George helped in those years of personal sacrifice that he has come to regret. So, in the end he finds himself realizing what a wonderful life he has, and how happy he is to have his family. In the end, the town of Bedford Falls comes together and donates the $8,000 to George to save him from prison. This encounter with truth has changed his life forever.

Some might call this a happy ending. I have often heard people say how Hollywood always forces in a happy ending. But in this film, I don’t know that I would call it a happy ending. Sure, he realizes what means most to him and how valuable his life really is, and that is a happy ending in that sense. But in terms of unrealistic Hollywood happy endings, this film does not have one. George may have his life back, but with that “gift” comes the reality that following Christmas he will go back to nickling and diming for the Business and Loan. The town members will go on in their poverty and need George’s help as much as they have always needed it. And the most terrible of all the truths, Potter will continue on misering, trying to ruin George and that miserable Business and Loan that always stands in his way.

The real happiness of this film does not lie in unrealistic, sappy Hollywood endings. The happiness lies in the fact that when we help others, when we put others first, when we value others’ lives as much as we value our own, we end up entertaining angels. I am not one who espouses angel theology or gets enraptured by cute little cherubim. In fact, Clarence was borderline annoying to me in the film (I forgive him). Rather, the angels are the people all around George…and in fact, George is an angel too. He helped countless people, some of them even strangers, and in the end they all end up helping him. It is not so much that they help him financially because he has helped them all far more than they could probably ever repay. But, rather, they helped him in being present in his darkest time.

It was in that dark time that George realized what angels they all were. It was when he thought no one knew him, when he felt the lack of everyone’s presence, that he realized that he had been entertaining angels his whole life. It is in that moment that he realized that he had neglected to see those angels for who they were; he had neglected to appreciate them and value them. Even in his selflessness he had been blinded by himself. But because he had been entertaining angels, they appeared before him in his darkest hour, when he needed them most. That is the beauty of Christmas! That is the heart of Christmas: recognizing that we are not alone in this world. If we recognize that we too have been entertaining angels, we might look up and see them standing all around us.

Merry Christmas! May God bless you with the wisdom to recognize the angels in your life.

“The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.” – George Elliot

Lord, help me to recognize the angels who are in my life, and humble me enough to realize the angel I am in the lives of others. Amen.

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