Take an imaginary tour of our world the way it would be if there were no Christmas story about a Baby in a manger.
Frank Capra’s 1946 classic film It’s a Wonderful Life has been a holiday favorite for decades. The film starred silver-screen legend James Stewart in the role of George Bailey, a kind-hearted but frustrated savings-and-loan manager who struggles against a greedy banker in the small town of Bedford Falls.
After suffering many hardships and dashed dreams of world travel and grand architectural achievements, George contemplates suicide, figuring he’s worth more dead than alive. An apprentice angel named Clarence intervenes to remind George how much he has accomplished in life, but the despondent man wishes that he had never been born at all. Clarence gets permission from his angelic superiors to grant George’s wish, and Bailey is given a nightmarish view of what the small town of Bedford Falls (renamed Pottersville after the town’s evil bank tycoon) would have been like without him. Shown at Christmastime, this sentimental film drives home the message that each life touches others in profound ways.
At this festive time of year, when chances are good that you and your family will watch (again) an angel named Clarence win his wings and a man named George discover the true meaning of life, try pausing between commercials to ask yourself this question: What if Jesus had never been born? What if there had been no star? No wise men? What if there had been no angelic host announcing peace and goodwill to frightened shepherds?
If the ramifications of a non-existent George Bailey on the fictional town of Bedford Falls were grave and distressful, what would the ramifications be of a non-existent Jesus Christ on our very real world?
No knowledge of the truth about God
Imagine yourself in the role of Clarence. You’re given the assignment of taking Jesus on a tour of earth to show Him what life would be like if He had never been born. The first and most obvious thing is that there’d be no such thing as Christmas.
At this time of year, people celebrate the birth of Christ with only a partial understanding about why He was born. Jesus came on a twofold mission—to redeem humanity and to reveal the truth about God. Disease, death, suffering, injustice, and oppression in the world lead millions to conclude that God is an arbitrary deity who doesn’t care about His creation. If there is a God, many reason, He is aloof at best and sadistic at worst. Jesus’ birth and subsequent life proved that this view of God was untrue.
The Bible says that Jesus “had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.”1
Jesus was God spelling himself out in language that humans could understand. His arrival in Bethlehem—not as an exalted deity in fiery flames of unspeakable glory, but as a squirming, squalling bundle of flesh and blood—spoke volumes about the value God placed on humanity. Every cry from the infant Jesus’ lips was a shout from the heart of God that said, “No sacrifice is too great to win you back to Myself. No price is too high to pay for your redemption. You are not alone in this world gone mad. I am your Creator and Redeemer. And I have ransomed My throne to share your DNA—to live as you live and die as no one has ever died so that you will never have to die.”
“If You had never been born,” you say to Jesus, “no one would know the truth about God—that He ‘so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ ”2
No hope for a life better than this one
Next, you take Jesus to a home where a drunken husband is beating his wife with a broom handle, then to a rat-infested inner city slum where, in a dark alley, a crack-addicted teenage girl permits herself to be raped by a dealer in payment for the drug that has enslaved her. Your next stop is an AIDS clinic in Zambia. There, an overtaxed medical staff scrambles to treat the sick and dying without access to the expensive drugs that keep the killer virus at bay. The bombed-out ruins of a police station in Baghdad and an apartment building in south Lebanon are the backdrops of your next visit. You point to the wailing survivors who must bury their dead by sundown, and finally you are moved to speak.
“If you had never been born, Jesus, there would be no hope of an eventual end to this relentless madness.”
Every leper healed, every blind person given their sight, every child blessed, and every dead person raised to life shouted to the world that God is love, God is good, God is here to save, not to smite. Though most of these miracles were temporary, the recipients eventually succumbing to old age or some other life-ending disease, they were given as tokens of mercy and promises of a better life to come. Jesus came to bring a bit of heaven to earth. To show that God has the answers to the afflictions of sin—disease, violence, hatred, and death.
No Bethlehem means no Calvary
Finally, you take Jesus to a hill called Calvary. But there is no cross to contemplate, because Jesus never came. No cry from the straw in the manger means no cry from the cross, “Father, forgive them!”
Suddenly the two of you are joined by a third party—an unwelcomed intruder none other than Satan himself. Now you are silent as Satan speaks.
“Jesus, You were so wise not to come to this hell-hole of a planet. Imagine the indignity! Being abused and put to death by the very creatures You came to save. Why, I wouldn’t blame You if You had just vaporized the whole lot of them. Good riddance!”
The accuser points a finger your direction and continues the tirade. “They weren’t worthy of Your sacrifice, Jesus. They were too stupid, too full of themselves, and too depraved to understand the gift You were giving them. Had You come and been born to that street urchin, Mary, people would have called You a bastard child and gossiped about Your questionable parentage. Yes, You would have healed a few folk and done some impressive miracles, but in the end, one of Your own followers would have betrayed You, and Your closest friends would have abandoned You. Even some of the ones You healed would have joined the mob calling for Your crucifixion. What gratitude!”
Now hot tears sting your eyes and course down your cheeks, because you know that, for once, Satan is telling the truth!
“And then, Jesus, had You come, these fools, instead of being thankful for You giving up Your throne, would have twisted a crown of thorns and pressed it into Your scalp. They would have mocked You and spat in Your face. They would have stripped You naked and nailed You to a tree. And then, thousands of years later when they would call themselves Christians like this one”—he spits as he again gestures your way—“they would disregard Your Word, segregate themselves from each other racially, gossip and slander each other in their churches, and make a mockery of the faith You came to teach them. They’d turn Your birthday into a circus sideshow with department store Santas, stories of flying reindeer, and shopping orgies where the only gods worshiped are the gods of excess, indulgence, and gluttony. What a waste of Your life, Jesus! You’re better off without these miserable creatures. Aren’t You glad You were never born?”
Satan folds his arms and grins with evil satisfaction as his words echo through the universe. His argument appears sound. His logic is irrefutable. But then, Jesus speaks.
The other side of the story
“You make a good case, Satan,” Jesus begins, “but you never tell it all.” Jesus walks over to where you sit, dejected and broken. He lifts you up and puts His arm around you. “You see, Satan, ‘it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’3 Everything you said about humans is true. They ‘all like sheep have gone astray, each one of [them] has turned to his own way.’4 ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’5 and the wages of sin—”
“Is death!” Satan interjects.
“True enough,” Jesus replies, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Me!”6 Suddenly is Satan goes silent.
“The fact is, I did come. I did live. I did heal and, yes, I did die. I was nailed to a cross by those I had come to save. But here’s the rest of the story. On the third day . . .” Satan begins to moan and rock like a reed blowing in the wind. “On the third day I rose again and came forth from the tomb a conqueror over you, hell, and the grave.”7 Satan lets out a horrific shriek as if stabbed through the heart by a dagger.
“And because I live, your end is certain. My life proclaims the truth about God, and My death and resurrection give human beings the choice to believe, receive forgiveness for their sins, and be saved.8 The long night of sin and suffering will soon be over. And because I did come the first time, I will come again and rescue all who believe in me.9
At this, Satan thrusts his hands over his ears and flees the scene spitting curses and crying, “Why did You come? Why did You have to come?”
Why He came
Why indeed? Only one reason—love. Because you and I would be lost without Him.
This Christmas, before you exchange that gift, guzzle eggnog at the office Christmas party, decorate your evergreen with lights, or sit down to watch George Bailey discover how big a hole a man leaves when he isn’t around, pause to consider the magnitude of the hole left in your life and in the lives of all humanity if Jesus had never been born.
Then take a moment to get down on your knees as the wise men did two thousand years ago, and thank Him for loving you enough to come and giving you the hope of a truly wonderful life.
Randy Maxwell writes from Nampa, Idaho.