A few months ago, I blogged about two ministers in my church who were diagnosed with breast cancer almost two weeks apart from each other. This past weekend, one of them preached again for the first time in nine weeks. And do you know what she spoke about?
The Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
A woman in her mid-forties, with young children at home, in the prime years of her career, and suddenly battling cancer. And she stands up and she preaches a sermon called, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Actually, what her sermon was about were those times when life WASN’T so wonderful. Those times when anger, fear, grief, anxiety, and sadness take root in our hearts and, even when we want to move forward, we just aren’t sure where to point our feet.
Her sermon was about love. About the love that is all around us. She talked about seeing the truest form of love over the past nine weeks in the simplest of ways. She said she saw love in her sister, who schedules every one of her doctors appointments, and in her children, who ask each day if it is okay for them to hug her. She saw love in the steadfastness of her husband and in the loyalty of her friends and neighbors. She saw love all around her, and she realized that nothing else mattered in this world but that love because God was at the center of every act of love and kindness.
Let me tell you, there was not a dry eye in the house. At one point, I reached down to get a tissue from my purse and ended up passing the tissue packet down the pew of complete strangers and every single person took one. Because faith that deep is a sight to behold. It is a miracle to see. It is a gift to experience. To me, Jenn’s sermon was about love, but it was her faith that spoke to my heart.
To see her sick and tired, but insisting, “It’s a wonderful life!”
To see the family who can barely pay bills, but who prays every night, “Thank you for all of our blessings.”
To see the unjustly treated raise their hands and proclaim, “It is well with my soul.”
To see the grieving hearts of loved ones close their eyes and say, “God is good.”
And to know that these are not merely words they are repeating, but are the songs in their hearts. True faith is undeniable. Truly faithful people cannot help but raise their hands to the heavens in times of great adversity and say, “Great is thy faithfulness, Father.”
I think that is what makes faith so hard for non-believers to understand. It is difficult NOT to look at people in those situations and think to yourself, “They are so naive,” or “What has God done for you?” But in this season of hope, while we wait for the arrival of our Savior, what people of deep, resounding faith know is that when the world was darkest, our God bent down from heaven and gave us an unexpected, undeserved gift. A gift that contained enough love that for the rest of history, throughout any kind of darkness, that love remained.
It is because of the gift of that baby that Jenn can preach “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and truly mean it down in her heart and soul.
The good news is that the gift of love was given in that manger so long ago not just for those of us who believe, but for those who don’t believe, as well. I believe God came to serve us all, no matter which God we pray to, no matter where we put our trust, no matter what is in our hearts. To me, this doesn’t mean people are loved beyond their own will, but it simply means God’s love covers us no matter what we choose, and I believe it comes to us in the form that we individually can receive it in. For me, that would be a manger, but for someone else that might be a temple, or a prayer rug at certain times of the day, or the universe, or even just the kindness of a friend.
Which is why, dear imaginary friends, this Christmas, I wish love to you and your family. Because as simple as that word seems, as often as it is used, it is one of the most powerful gifts that we have and one of the most important emotions that we share.
I wish you a love this holiday season that permeates no matter what your family celebrates. A love that shines through you no matter what darkness you might be facing. A love that brings joy to the unjoyful, peace to the unknown, and comfort to the suffering. I wish you a love so big and deep that even and especially when life is not what you expected, you can still proclaim, it is, indeed, a wonderful life.
Merry Christmas, friends.