If Jesus Hadn’t Been Born

wonderful life (2)Larry L. Eubanks, First Baptist Church, Frederick, Maryland, November 27, 2016

In the modern age, Christmas movies and TV shows are as much a part of Christmas as Christmas trees and Christmas carols. When I was growing up, my brothers and I would carefully scan the TV guide every week to make sure we didn’t miss “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Those were the prehistoric times when you couldn’t just pop a disc in the DVD player and watch whenever you wanted. The shows were broadcast once a year, and if you missed them, you missed them.

Those were the two that we had to see. There were others. We’d watch the Andy Williams Christmas Special every year, and The King Family. There was only one TV and so we’d watch them as a family.

And no, I’m not old—my parents are.

For how many of you is “It’s a Wonderful Life” one of those must-sees each year, part of your Christmas?

If it is then you probably know that it wasn’t a box office success. It wasn’t a flop, but it had high production costs and struggled to meet them. It was met with mixed reviews, and though it was nominated for an Academy Award in the major categories like Best Film, Best Actor for Jimmy Stewart, and Best Director for Frank Capra, it only won one—Best Technical Achievement, which it won because they developed a new way of simulating snow falling on the movie set.

So no one would have anticipated back then that it would be a big part of Christmas in America, looping over and over on cable TV.

What’s really interesting about the movie is that it’s really not a Christmas movie. The setting is Christmas Eve and so there’s Christmas decorations around Bedford Falls and George Bailey is standing next to a Christmas tree at the end of the movie, but it’s not at all about anything to do with Christmas. You could take the entire story and put it in the Spring or Summer and nothing would have to change.

It wasn’t even supposed to be released at Christmas time. It was scheduled to be released in January of 1947 but they moved it to December 20, 1946 so it would be eligible for the Academy Awards that year.

And in the end, when all the people have crowded into George and Mary’s living room after rescuing the savings and loan, they don’t sing a Christmas song. What do they sing? Auld Lang Sine! A New Year’s Song! Anyone ever thought that was strange for a Christmas movie? Now you know.

You know the story. It’s Christmas Eve, 1945, and George Bailey is ready to take his own life. His guardian angel, Clarence, is sent to rescue him, but before he goes he is shown scenes from George’s life—how when he was 12 he saved his brother Harry’s life when he fell through some ice, though it cost him his hearing in one ear.

And because of that he was ineligible to serve in WWII. Harry becomes a Navy pilot and shoots down a kamikaze plane that would have bombed an amphibious transport.

George marries Mary Hatch and forsakes his own dreams in order to take over the Bailey Brother’s Building and Loan upon his father’s death so that it would be saved from being taken over by Mr. Potter.

He established Bailey Park, a housing development of small homes financed through the savings and loan, which allowed people to own their own homes instead of paying exorbitant rent to Mr. Potter.

All these things and more Clarence sees. And now he has to convince George not to kill himself because his absent-minded brother Billy loses an $8,000 deposit and he’s going to lose everything to Mr. Potter in the resulting scandal.

As Clarence tries to convince George not to jump from the bridge, George wishes he had never been born. So Clarence proceeds to show him what the world would be like had he never been born. Here’s a clip of George confronting that possibility as a reality:

Click here for movie clip

Pretty grim isn’t it? This helps George appreciate the life that he has now, the one he deems isn’t worth living.

Which brings us to the question that I want to raise for us this morning: what would it be like if Jesus had never been born?

We live with the reality of his life so much that we take it for granted, but think about it—what would the world look like if Jesus had never been born?

First off, let’s take a look at what it was like before he was born. For that we go to the Old Testament, to the prophet Isaiah, as he describes what it’s like. Isaiah 59:1-9

See, the LORD’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness. No one brings suit justly, no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity. They hatch adders’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web; whoever eats their eggs dies, and the crushed egg hatches out a viper. Their webs cannot serve as clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they rush to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths. Their roads they have made crooked; no one who walks in them knows peace. Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. (Isa 59:1-9 NRS)

This is Israel. This is their reality. They are living it. They were called out from among the nations to be a light to the nations.

  • They were to worship the one true God, and him alone.
  • They were to be a nation of justice, where they took care of the weak, the poor, the widows and orphans, the foreigner who lived among them
  • They were to protect the innocent and pursue justice against the guilty
  • They were to share the wealth of the land that God had given to them so that no one had too much while others had too little.
  • They were to seek peace among each other and among the nations. They were not to be an attacking, conquering nation like everyone else, but to walk the way of peace.

They were to be different. They were to be light. Instead, they chose darkness.

  • They went after the gods of the nations, where wealth and power were worshiped, where the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner we made slaves and forced to satisfy the immoral lusts of powerful men.
  • They didn’t take care of the poor, they blamed the poor, said God was cursing them, and took what little the poor had, like David stealing the only lamb of one of his own soldiers.
  • They didn’t pursue justice but flaunted their power, made laws that favored the already powerful.
  • Instead of sharing their prosperity they built bigger barns so they could stop working and enjoy a life of leisure.
  • And if you have a lot, you have to protect it, so they raised armies to keep what they had and try to get even more. They did not walk in the way of peace.

In other words, instead of being a light to the nations, they were just like any other nation. So that’s how God treated them.

What it was like then is what it would be now.

It’s hard to know exactly what the world would look like if Christ hadn’t been born and there weren’t Christians who actually followed him and sought to be light to the darkness, who didn’t just claim his name but also his lifestyle.

It’s actually quite easy to bash Christians and Christianity because, unfortunately, we give people ample reason to do so. We have not always stood up for righteousness and justice. But much of what is good in the modern world is the result of Christians and their influence.

The value of each individual

In most societies, including that of ancient Israel in Jesus day and before, each individual derived their value from the group. The collective identity was more important than the individual identity—there was no individual identity apart from the collective identity. There was no individual value apart from that of the group.

The individual was not important—the group, the society, was all that mattered. This is embodied in Caiaphas the high priest statement to the Sanhedrin that it was better for one person to die, even if he is innocent, than for the whole people to suffer.

We understand the value of people coming together for a common cause, the energy that teamwork can bring, that we can do more together than we can as individuals.

But within that teamwork is a recognition of the value of each individual’s talent and contribution. In sports, you can have a great quarterback, but if your left tackle can’t block, the quarterback can’t do anything.

It is in the New Testament that this is taught and recognized. Paul says we are all part of the body of Christ, and all are equally valued. The foot shouldn’t say, “I’m not a hand, so I don’t belong.” We need feet!

For us that is obvious, it almost goes without saying, but that’s because we live in a world influenced by Christian teaching. Paul’s statement is actually revolutionary. It becomes the foundation for the individual rights that we enjoy in this country.

But if Christ hadn’t been born, maybe the police could just walk in and search your house any time they wanted to, like they do in so many other countries.

It was Christians who pushed for a Bill of Rights to be added to the Constitution, guaranteeing not only freedom of religion, but of speech, of assembly, of privacy.

Not in spite of Christianity, but because of it.

Slavery

Let’s talk about slavery. It’s true that the slave-holders in the south were almost all church-going Christians. But slavery had been a part of most societies and cultures throughout human history. It was just accepted.

The abolitionists who fought for freedom, however, both in America and in Great Britain, where Christians also, Christians who valued each individual and who fought for justice, even against the economic interests of some very rich and powerful people.

Don’t forget that the Civil Rights movement was led by a Baptist preacher.

These are just a couple, but they aren’t inconsequential. They matter. I could go on to talk about the humanitarian things Christians have done throughout the centuries, and still do.

If Christ hadn’t been born, would these things still be happening?

If Christ hadn’t been born, he wouldn’t have died and been raised.

Paul talks about this reality in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

That’s the biggest thing: If Christ hadn’t been born, we would still be in our sins. If God hadn’t come in human and showed us what it meant to really be human, fully human, we wouldn’t know what it looks like. Because of sin we’ve sunk into living sub-human lives, and we’ve accepted it as normal. We see inhumanity, and though there is something in us that still sees it as the horror that it is, there is a large part of us that has gotten used to it.

Or at least accepted that this is the way it’s always going to be. We’ve accepted that to be human is to be this way.

But it’s not. It’s not human to be this way, it’s less than human. Jesus was born to show us what a real human looks like, acts like, and dies like.

On the cross, Christ accomplished the obedience that we had proven incapable of and died the death we were unwilling to die. God therefore raised him up to demonstrate that this is the only life that’s capable of handling eternity.

No other life is worth living forever.

The world is different because Jesus was born, but here’s the sad thing we have to confront: many effectively live as if Christ had never been born.

I’m not just talking about people who aren’t Christians; I’m talking about Christians as well. Many want to accept his death and receive his forgiveness, but they don’t want to accept his life as their own. His choices as their own.

They may come to worship him on Sunday morning. Maybe. Most Sundays.

But the rest of the time their life shows no evidence that Jesus has come into their lives, much less into the world.

But Christ has come:

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. (Isaiah 60:1-2)

 

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