Unlike many of my favorite Christmas movies, I didn’t grow up watching this one each year. The first time I saw this movie, I was a senior in high school. My economics teacher showed it during class to teach
about the stock market crash and what a run on the bank looks like. Even at the time, I had an inkling that my teacher, who was also a Christian, wanted us to learn more from this classic film than the economics held in that pivotal scene. I assume he hoped we’d leave with a better understanding of our worth and for me, his thinly veiled plan worked. It never occurred to me that our interactions, no matter how small affect others in ways we can’t measure.
Most people are somewhat familiar with this movie. Enough at least to be able to connect it with famous lines like, “Merry Christmas you old Building and Loan!” or “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
The movie itself seems to follow the theme that you have to look close to see someone’s worth. It was a commercial flop that opened to mixed reviews, and Frank Capra was thought to have lost his ability to make movies that made money. The film was put into the public domain which made it free to broadcast into millions of homes each Christmas. From the comfort of their couches, Americans decided they were wrong about this cinematic gem which is now considered one of the greatest films of all time. And I’m so glad they did.
It’s not a traditional Christmas movie in that opens with the sounds of prayers for a man named George Bailey, then a conversation with what appears to be two glowing star clusters. An angel named Clarance is given the chance to intervene in a crucial moment for George Bailey, but first he needs to be briefed on George’s life thus far -which is the bulk of the movie.
The reason this movie is so compelling, and probably why it initially got mixed reviews, is Jimmie Stewart’s raw emotion which was actually a result of lingering PTSD from WWII. In a way, this film not only showed us all that we have great worth, Jimmie Stewart learned that valuable lesson. Because of his brokenness, he was able teach us all that our lives are important.
But I think it goes beyond that truth. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a story of redemption. God redeemed George Bailey’s life. He took all these difficult or seemingly insignificant moments and redeemed them into something important. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Think of some of the moments in George Bailey’s life that God redeemed.
As a child, George saved his brother Harry from drowning. Later, Harry became a Navy pilot in World War II and shot down fifteen bomber planes attempting to kill US soldiers on a transport. All those men lived because Harry lived.
George also stood up to his pharmacist boss when he mistakingly filled a child’s prescription with poison. That moment was the difference between Mr. Gower being the town drunk or a valued citizen.
Through his work at the Building and Loan, George helped the people of Bedford Falls become home owners which took the power away from evil Mr. Potter who wanted nothing more than to keep everyone poor and beholden to him.
These were game-changing moments in the lives of others. The truth is, we don’t know what things will be game-changer moments. It could be just a conversation to us, but to someone else, it may be the difference between sadness and joy, despair and hope, or death and life. God may be using our everyday interactions to redeem a situation, a person, or ourselves. When you think of it that way, it really is a wonderful life.
George Bailey isn’t the only one who was redeemed by this movie. The movie itself was redeemed once the audience was able to see it with fresh eyes and Jimmie Stewart himself was redeemed in the making of it.
We love stories of redemption, especially at Christmas, because they serve as a reminder of why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Jesus didn’t come to the world so we could sing carols, or give gifts, or even watch Christmas movies. He came to redeem the world. Anything that reminds me of that truth is worth doing.
This particular Christmas isn’t so packed with concerts, school programs, and parties so it’s a good year to curl up with some good Christmas movies. If this one isn’t part of your tradition, give it a try. If it is, enjoy our time in Bedford Falls.