In a few weeks we will be hearing Christmas carols in retail stores as we walk down the aisles of colorful packaged holiday merchandise and decorations. On our TVs we will notice the traditional Christmas movies being promoted and programmed once again. One of my favorite films for the holidays is the classic production “It’s A Wonderful Life,” with Jimmy Stewart starring as the leading character George Bailey. At the end of this movie the angel Clarence, who was sent to help George, finally earned his wings because he faithfully accomplished the mission God gave him. The mission was to help George and the people of Bedford Falls through a period of crisis they were facing at the hands of a greedy banker and his cronies. Well, we all know the story well!
What is it about angels that can teach us a lot about ourselves and our relationship with God? Angels are usually portrayed as human beings with wings. That says something to me about “freedom.” Wings are a symbol of human freedom, which we might intuit from our yearning to soar above and beyond where we are and what we can do. With wings of freedom we can fly “like an eagle” and experience the world in all its wonder. Angels are free, we feel, because they have, according to traditional thinking and artistic depictions, wings to soar beyond human concerns. They are not rooted to the earth or to its many limitations. But according to human psychology and Christian spirituality they are free because they have surrendered their EGOS to the will of God. Rooted in our self-centered behaviors, we are tied down to our own desires, agendas, preferences, and perceptions. We have thus disabled our “wings” (freedom) that alone can transform us from our crippling human self-absorption to the angelic existence of moving without limitations and soaring peacefully in the presence of God. This process of achieving angelic status is long and tedious as we note in the holiday movie. Clarence was still a “second-class” angel who had not as yet completed the process of earning his wings, that is, discovering his true freedom.
Often angels are pictured with child-like features (cherubs) along with their wings. As little children our egos have not as yet become giant “me-monsters” and are still free to be attentive to and caring about others. As we age, our egos grow and as we grow in self-centeredness we find it harder and harder to fly or even reach beyond ourselves. The ego-roots tie us into the soil of self-reliance and self-satisfaction. Jesus knew that this was the situation of wounded humanity, so he challenged us to lose ourselves (egos) in order to find ourselves, to die to ourselves in order to come to life, to surrender ourselves in order to let ourselves be saved. (Cf.John 12:24-25, Luke 17:33, Matthew 16:25, Matthew 10:39) Another way of saying this is that we need to dig up our false roots (the ones WE plant!) so that we can enable our wings to set us free for the mission God has planted in our hearts. Our real roots are in God! Rooted in God we are nourished and nurtured to serve our brothers and sisters, to enable them to discover and make life-giving decisions. The movie angel Clarence surrendered his self-concerns (false roots) and was able to fly to the help of George Bailey and help him discover that God’s way is a “wonderful life.” May we, like the angel Clarence get our wings for Christmas! May we chop away at our false roots of self-absorption and free ourselves to spread wide our angelic wings to live and work for the welfare of the whole human family. Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and a “wonderful” Christmas season!