What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?

A short story by Philip Van Doren Stern became a screenplay we know as “It’s a Wonderful Life”

When Philip Van Doren Stern’s 4,000-word short story “The Greatest Gift” failed to impress a prospective publisher, the writer and Civil War historian decided to print it himself. He sent it out as his Christmas card to family and friends in December 1943. The story had to do with a despondent man contemplating suicide who is given the opportunity to see what the world would have been like had he never been born.

One of those who happened upon this unique Christmas greeting was Hollywood director Frank Capra who bought the movie rights to the story for $10,000. Capra adapted The Greatest Gift into a screenplay and gave Stern’s story a new title. It’s a Wonderful Life was released as a motion picture in December, 1946.

What originated as a Christmas card became a movie released at Christmastime. And each Christmastime, It’s a Wonderful Life is shown multiple times. If it wasn’t for Christmas, we would never know the story of George Bailey. But more significantly, without Christmas our world would be drastically different.

British writer C. S. Lewis imagined such a dark, Christ-less planet in his brilliant children’s story The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The world he conceived he called Narnia. Paralyzed under the frozen spell of the White Witch, it is a world in which it is “always winter but never Christmas.”

A world in which it is always winter but never Christmas would be a world in which the mail carrier stuffs your box with bills, bank statements, and third-class junk. No Christmas would mean no Christmas cards or caroling or gift giving. The world would be devoid of twinkling lights and festive decorations. By definition, a world without Christmas would be a world without Jesus.

The shock George Bailey felt as he wandered into the dark and depraved city limits of Pottersville is nothing when compared with what we would feel if our sin-infested planet had been denied the “Light of the World.” What worked as a brilliant literary motif in Stern’s story works as a startling exercise for those tempted to approach their faith casually. We would do well to ponder what our world would be like had Jesus Christ never been born.

If Jesus had never been born, not only would there be no Christmas, there would be no Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Easter, Halloween, or Thanksgiving. Each one of those popular American holidays is based on (or somehow tied to) Christianity. But a world without Jesus would have even greater implications.

Can you imagine a world without the artistic masterpieces of the Renaissance largely influenced by the Christian message? Can you imagine a world without a boat named the Mayflower transporting victims of religious persecution to the New World determined to populate a land where faith could be freely practiced? Can you imagine a world without William Wilberforce and his Christian witness against slavery in Britain’s Parliament?

Can you imagine a world without George Frederic Handel’s immortal oratorio Messiah? Can you imagine science textbooks that do not include the findings of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, and Mendel all of whom embraced the Christ of history and were shaped by his teachings?

Can you imagine a world without universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and many others that were founded by Christians to train Christians? Can you imagine a world without Clara Barton and the lifesaving efforts that came from her Red Cross?

Can you imagine a world without General William Booth and his army of soldiers fighting on the frontlines of homelessness, hunger, and poverty? Can you imagine a world without Bill Wilson’s Twelve Steps or his Big Blue Book or the countless lives who have regained sobriety through the organization called Alcoholics Anonymous?

And furthermore, if Jesus had never been born, we would not have the assurance of forgiveness and confidence of the Creator’s acceptance and the wonderful life we were created to experience.

*This article is excerpted from “Finding God in It’s a Wonderful Life” by Greg Asimakoupoulos.

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Finding God in
It’s a Wonderful Life
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A Classic Movie with a Timeless Message

Greg Asimakoupoulos interviews Karolyn Grimes about her role in The Bishop’s Wife

Last month was Breast Cancer Awareness month. But for the last twenty-five years or so, October has also been observed as Pastor Appreciation Month. Churches throughout the country look for tangible ways to recognize pastors and priests for the contribution they make in our lives.

Needless-to-say, clergy serve on the frontlines of warring factors in our culture. They play a significant role in combatting injustice and self-destructive tendencies. Often, however, their efforts are overlooked. Their attempts at compassion are easily camouflaged. At the retirement community where I serve as chaplain, we recently invited area clergy to our campus and honored them with a special lunch and a small gift. They were grateful.

Having been in the ministry for more than four decades, I know firsthand the joys and challenges pastors face week in and week out year after year. Someone has aptly stated that the clergy person’s rewards are out of this world. But the struggles he or she faces are very much in the here-and-now.

One of those challenges common to the typical clergyman is taming the inner beast known as ego. What pastor or priest has not wanted to grow his congregation or parish? What person of the cloth has not looked for tangible ways to earn the respect and recognition of his or her peers? Who of them has not known the hunger for power and influence that becomes insatiable at times?

While that unhealthy hunger is hardly abnormal, it is also hardly new. The lust for power and recognition has cost too many celebrity pastors their reputation. The inner conflict that can destroy the gifted has been dramatized on the silver screen over the decades.

One of those films celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.  “The Bishop’s Wife” starring David Niven, Loretta Young and Cary Grant portrays the inner struggle of an ambition-driven cleric. Although this timeless picture was remade in 1996 as “The Preacher’s Wife” (with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington), there is no replacing the original. I ought to know. “The Bishop’s Wife” is this chaplain’s wife’s favorite Christmas film. We watch it every year.

One of the actors in “The Bishop’s Wife” is a friend of mine. Karolyn Grimes, who played the part of Debby (the Bishop’s young daughter) is now eighty-two years old. Karolyn was also in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (my favorite Christmas movie) as George Bailey’s daughter Zuzu. Having spent time with Karolyn, I know that playing the role of the bishop’s daughter was a highlight of her young acting career.

Curiously, Karolyn once told me that David Niven (who portrayed the ego-motivated minister in “The Bishop’s Wife”) had his own struggles as an actor. He didn’t like children. Karolyn related much better to Cary Grant, whose angelic role on screen was replicated in real life.

As with Frank Capra’s “Wonderful” film about Mary Bailey’s husband George, “The Bishop’s Wife” deals with a dark plot. In both black-and-white classics, we see desperate men calling on God for guidance. In the underrated movie that exposes the over-ambitious clergyman, the film ends with a redemptive conclusion. The bishop discovers his identity is not tied to the construction of a new cathedral. Instead, he finds (with the help of an angel) that his life and ministry is most fulfilled by serving those most in need of his care. And those include his wife and daughter.

As one who has tasted the sweet (but forbidden) fruit of ambition, I understand the seductive nature of success. A bout with clinical depression thirty years ago proved to be the reality check I needed. An undisciplined ego demands a high cost. Examining my motives, I determined to invest my limited energy in those around me. As a result, this chaplain’s wife can attest to my contentment and hers.

And so, I commend to you “The Bishop’s Wife.” This movie celebrating a milestone anniversary offers a glimpse of the humanity of those clothed in holy garb. But it also reminds us that investing in people (and not brick-and-mortar) results in the most lasting value.

Greg’s book,
Wonderful Life
is listed on the
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at $16.50
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Greg’s book,
Finding God in
It’s a Wonderful Life
is listed on the
BOOKS menu
at $2.99-$14.99
Lulu Books.

It’s a Wonderful (Amazing) Life!

New words to Amazing Grace inspired by an old movie

A wonderful life
God’s given us
through friends and family.
Each morning breaks
with hope anew
like waves upon the sea.

There’s beauty in
a walk at dawn
and geese upon a pond.
Our lives are blessed
by thoughts of times
with loved ones who are gone.

There’s wonder in
a moonlit night
and in a child’s face.
Our blessings morph
to grateful hearts
and hymns that praise God’s grace.

Greg’s book,
Finding God in
It’s a Wonderful Life
is listed on the
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at $2.99-$14.99
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Finding God in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

You don’t have to look far to find Him

Finding God in Bedford Falls?
By George, I have. Will you?
Like Waldo He keeps showing up
amid the many clues.

He’s there at old man Gower’s store.
and in the Granville home.
You’ll find Him there at Harry’s prom
or as George prays alone.

He’s there beside young Zuzu’s bed
and at Martini’s bar.
To find the Lord within this film,
you need not look that far.

He’s there when Mr. Potter tries
to trap George in his web.
And He is there when George gives up
and wishes he was dead.

Although you’ll never see His face,
God’s fingerprints abound
within this movie millions love.
The plot is holy ground!

*Frank Capra’s timeless Christmas movie premiered on December 20, 1946 (exactly 75 years ago). Although it was nominated for five Academy Awards, it didn’t win any. What appeared at first to be a flop has become one of the most inspirational and popular films of all times. The following radio interviews were recently aired, interviewing Greg for his insights on the movie and the festival:

Dave Ross, CBS radio, interviews Greg Asimakoupoulos about IAWL Festival, 12/08/2021

Spirit 105.3 FM, Seattle’s Erica Parkerson interviews Greg on 12/22/2021

Gregg Hersholt, KOMO radio, features and interviews Greg Asimakoupoulos, 12/24/2021

BBC Radio 4 Sunday Program, 12/26/2021, host William Crawley features Greg Asimakoupoulos discussing significant audio clips from the IAWL movie.

Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos was guest preacher at First United Methodist, Seneca Falls, NY 12/12/2021 at time of the “It’s a Wonderful Life Festival”.
(Video play button above will start video at the intro to sermon)

Greg’s book,
Finding God in
It’s a Wonderful Life
is listed on the
BOOKS menu
at $2.99-$14.99
Lulu Books.