There’s a season for everything
and a time for every matter under the heavens:
a time for giving birth and a time for dying,
a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,
a time for killing and a time for healing,
a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
a time for crying and a time for laughing,
a time for mourning and a time for dancing,
a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
a time for searching and a time for losing,
a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
a time for tearing and a time for repairing,
a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
a time for loving and a time for hating,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from all their hard work? I have observed the task that God has given human beings. God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.
“Just a minute . . . just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was . . . why, in the 25 years since he and his brother, Uncle Billy, started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!” — George Bailey
If character is anything, it’s interesting. It’s what we notice in others. We hardly remember a character in a book or movie, or in real life, if they are not clearly defined.
Mr. Bailey, George’s father, has clearly defined character — kind, giving, and attentive to his family and to the needs of others, unmotivated by profit or power. Mr. Potter’s character is also clearly defined — driven by greed, money, and power and living in the small world of his insatiable hunger for property, surrounded only by those whose loyalty he can buy or bribe.
They are both interesting characters.
George Bailey is even more complex — and more interesting. He’s responsible and just, passionate and visionary. He’s also frustrated and tired. He’d love to travel, but stays home to run the family business, providing the city with an affordable housing option to Potter’s Bank. He’d love to pursue education, but stays home to pay his brother’s tuition instead. We’re apt to join Clarence, Angel, 2nd Class, and exclaim, “I like him. I like George Bailey!”
The Latin root meaning for the word “character” is “stamping tool.” It’s how an item was clearly distinguished from others. Our character is our “stamping tool.”
When Uncle Billy loses the end-of-the-year Bailey Building and Loan deposit of $8000 (over $500,000 today), George Bailey’s life is thrown into darkness, and his character is about to be severely tested. He makes all the wrong choices and regrets his very life. He even runs to his nemesis, Potter, for help; Potter then ironically echoes George’s earlier words back to him: “You once called me a ‘warped, frustrated old man.’ Well, what are you, but a warped, frustrated young man?”
George’s character is always defined by his actions — everything he does is ultimately about being a presence for healing, hope, and justice. He forgets that for a brief moment, when his thoughts turn to panic. But luckily for George, as for us, there are “angels” in our midst who often show up to remind us who we really are, and “the one in whom we move and live and have our being.”
I think Advent is a time to be reminded of God’s unchanging character of love and how we reflect that ourselves. Reconciling, compassionate, abiding, and inviting love is God’s “stamping tool.” In the midst of the darkest hours we might experience, or our world might encounter, God’s ultimate desire is always to be present, to bring hope, and to fill the world with grace. It is Emmanuel — God with us.
It is You who gives us life, Gracious God, and it is Your image that is stamped within our very souls. May we remember who we are and whose we are as we live out our everyday lives, knowing that our soul’s deepest longing is to reflect the beauty of Your love, Your mercy and grace, Your compassion and generosity. Amen.