Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:3)
Last week I mentioned a character who is familiar to us from a popular Christmas Film - well, a book really - the character of Scrooge - this week I choose another one.
His name is George Bailey … an ordinary sort of chap who lived a fairly ordinary life in a very ordinary American town from the 1930s into the 1940s. He has a loving wife and a large family and a fairly comfortable life - but he had been a young man with dreams! He had damaged lungs, after rescuing his younger brother from a freezing pool as a child, but has great ambitions - to travel the world, to see Europe - but he doesn’t even get to serve in the war, as his brother does, with great distinction, because of his disability. The problems of the Great Depression means he has to stay in the small town to maintain the family business, a small mutual bank, a Savings and Loans company, which helps provide affordable homes for the folk of the town.
And then a crisis comes, for which he can’t see a way out, and he realises that his entire life has been a failure, a disaster. None of his dreams have come to pass. He has not seen the world, or served his country, or done any of the wonderful things he had dreamt of as a young man.
This wonderful film - it’s called “It’s a Wonderful Life” - then traces how George Bailey is shown, by a very unconventional angel, what the lives of other people would have been without him: how many people would have been without homes if he had never lived, how his brother would have died, so never have become a war hero, how him Mother would have become a bitter broken woman, his wife a lonely spinster, and the wonderful house which they renovated together for their family of many children would have stood as a ruin. He realises that his life has in fact made a difference.
Well, its a lovely film, set at Christmas, complete with snow and angels. A bit sentimental indeed, but cheering none the less.
But what - you may be thinking - what on earth has George Bailey to do with today’s Gospel, and its strange and uncompromising figure, John the Baptist?
Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight, he says, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near at hand.
Well, the thing about all the prophets, John the Baptist included, is not that they predict the future, nor that they accuse us of being wicked sinners, but that they are sent to convince us that we can make a difference.
We may think that we are not important, that we make no impact, that God has not chosen us for anything in particular, that our actions have very few consequences. And yet they do!
The listening ear, the words of comfort, the loving hug, the acts of generosity and kindness - they all make a difference. And so do the occasional dishonesty, the moderate selfishness, the passing hardness of heart.
George Bailey, dare I say, came to see that God had a plan for him, and he did make a difference, an enormous difference - though his modesty was such that he had hardly noticed it. And John the Baptist tells us today that that whoever we are, whatever our age or job or condition of life, we can and do make a difference: Prepare a way for the Lord.