At this time of year my life can feel like the scrawny, humble Christmas tree that Charlie Brown buys in the perennial favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas. He tries to make it beautiful, but instead the branches limp over in defeat.
The season can do that to us. The pressure of commercialism, buying gifts, doing everything we feel needs to get done can leave us empty and exhausted.
Or, perhaps the holidays trigger dysfunctional family issues, grief over the loss of a loved one or beloved pet, or remind us that we are alone and don’t have the perfect romantic relationship as portrayed on the Hallmark Channel.
It’s a Wonderful Life is another Christmas movie that speaks to what seems to be failure. Most of you know the story. Poor George Bailey can’t seem to catch a break. He wants to leave his father’s banking business and travel the world.
But he falls in love with Mary, marries her, follows in his dad’s footsteps as bank president, and is stuck in his hometown of Bedford Falls. Some sneaky business dealings place the bank in trouble and George is driven to suicide.
Until Clarence his guardian angel appears and saves George. He grants George’s wish: What would his life be like if he had never been born?
When Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and told she is to be the mother of the Christ, she is in fear. What will happen now — and how? Her heart must have been troubled as she traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth to share her news.
But when Elizabeth affirms Mary by declaring, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear!” Mary’s fear leaves her.
Only then is Mary able to proclaim the Magnificat, a grace-filled prayer of praise and thanks. An angel couldn’t evoke Mary’s powerful words. But another human being could.
Sometimes we fail to see the power we have as humans, how the smallest of acts can be life-changing and blessed for others.
Charlie discovers, with the help of Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and his friends, that his tree is not so scrawny after all, but filled with beauty.
And George discovers the impact — no matter how insignificant his actions — he has had on many lives. He just never knew it. Mary finds her fear at “what happens next” disappearing when her cousin affirms her as a channel of God’s grace.
We can find ourselves somewhere in each of these stories.
I know when my life feels like a scrawny Christmas tree, or I feel like George and my life seems to have little meaning, or like Mary, I feel alone and afraid – I can open up my heart to receive the love and support of others. And I can love myself.
The point is, we matter to each other; we need each other. As Clarence tells George, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”.
Your life may feel like Charlie Brown’s scrawny tree, but Linus knows better. He tells Charlie, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
A little love. Sometimes that’s all we need – what we can be for each other.
What greater gift is there?