EL CAJON, Calif. – Clarence Odbody was an angel sent to earth to earn his wings by being the guardian angel of George Bailey. George was despondent over his bank being on the verge of failure and decided to end his life. But Clarence saved George by showing him the good he had accomplished in the lives of those in Bedford Falls, his hometown.
When George reunited with his family on Christmas Eve, and after the bank had been saved through generous donations from those who appreciated him, a bell on the Christmas tree rings. George’s daughter, ZuZu, says to her father, “Look, Daddy. Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” George then looks toward heaven with a grateful, “Attaboy, Clarence!” Who doesn’t shed a tear at that fabulous scene at the end of the perennial Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life?”
The bell in It’s a Wonderful Life was a brilliant device because bells are such a part of the holiday season. We hear church bells ringing, Salvation Army workers ringing their handbells as they receive donations, and – if we’re fortunate – we get to hear the jingle bells on the harness of a horse as it plows through a snowy wonderland.
The bell that rang when Clarence Odbody got his wings was a sign that he had done a good deed – saving George Bailey. But in another sense, it was recognition of all the good deeds that George Bailey had done for others. He had given up his dream of traveling the world to stay in Bedford Falls after his father died suddenly. And he treated his savings and loan customers like they were family. George Bailey learned a powerful lesson – that doing good for others is part of the Christmas spirit. And he was reminded of this when he heard that little bell ring.
This should be a reminder to us all that Christmas includes the theme of doing good for others, just as others – especially God – have done for us.
Spirit of God, Spirit of Good
Christmas is the perfect time to jingle some bells of our own and demonstrate God’s grace toward the world by touching the lives of others. Don’t forget: We are saved “by grace … through faith…. For good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Christmas represents the greatest good work by God for mankind – sending His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world for our salvation.
In December 1891 a Salvation Army worker named Joseph McFee had an idea: He wanted to provide a free Christmas dinner to poor residents of the San Francisco Bay area. As he prayed, images from his days as a sailor came to mind. In Liverpool, England, he remembered a large pot being set up on the dock to receive donations for the poor from incoming sailors. So McFee asked city officials for permission to hang a crab pot at the Oakland ferry landing – a place where donations for the poor could be placed. And it worked! He raised enough money to feed a thousand hungry souls. That crab pot has since turned into the red kettles that appear every Christmas in 120 countries around the world, all for the same purpose as McFee’s: to help the needy at the most generous season of the year.
The Salvation Army is, of course, a Christian charitable ministry. Where the Spirit of God is, the spirit of good is not far behind.
The composer of the song “Jingle Bells” (James Lord Pierpont, 1850), meant for “jingle” to be interpreted as an imperative verb, as in “jingle your bells.” It was common in his day for horse harnesses to be fitted with bells so that horse-drawn sleighs, which make little noise in the snow, could be heard as they approached a blind intersection, avoiding a crash.
Just as bells announce an approaching sleigh, we should consider letting our works announce the reality of Jesus Christ in our lives this Christmas. Ask God to show you someone you can bless with a gift of kindness – whether a material gift, a meal, an invitation, a kind word, or another form of blessing. You won’t win a set of angel wings if you do, but you will be blessed as you bless others (1 Peter 3:9).
Written by David Jeremiah, founder and host of Turning Point for God and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif.
Published by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.