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Why “It’s A Wonderful Life” makes my heart sing

December 1, 2014

Last year at Thanksgiving Weekend 2013, our extended family watched the movie classic It’s a Wonderful Life  on Consumerism Friday, and it was the first time ever for some or the first in a long time for others.  I was reminded that I love that story.  It carries a certain nostalgia for me from my childhood, but the more I see it, I think I love it for more than nostalgia.

This year, I wanted to watch it again at our Thanksgiving weekend, but was feeling insecure about it because I wasn’t sure if everyone else wanted to see it again a second year in a row.  So I slipped it in the DVD player while some people were still sleeping in and thought it could be “background entertainment” for the morning.  Eventually everyone made it downstairs, and since it is quite a long movie, we all ended up giving it our full attention in the second half of it.  I was feeling nervous for hijacking family time with my selfish decision to put on the movie.  Yet by the closing, joyful scenes, I had no doubt that my decision was a good one, because everyone was smiling and their spirits were lifted.

Why is the film of Jimmy Stewart’s most famous character such a masterpiece?  Why do we return to it year after year, despite the outdated setting, the black and white picture, the lack of “action,” or sheer lengthiness?georgejpg-fd3dd90b070727deIt-s-A-Wonderful-Life-its-a-wonderful-life-32920425-1600-1202 Its-a-wonderful-life IAWL

Why? George Bailey discovers for us that our worth in life does not depend on our dreams being fulfilled.  What a relief! In today’s movies and entertainment, we are told to dream big and give everything for those dreams.  Our dreams are the only thing worth living for.  Become an Olympian, become a pop star, get married and start a family, become a successful business woman or man, build your dream house, you-name-it.  But It’s A Wonderful Life teaches us that there is something greater- which happens to be the second part of the the Bible’s “Greatest Commandment”- which is loving your neighbor as yourself.  In today’s eyes, George Bailey is an utter failure, because he never achieves his dream (introduced right at the beginning of the story) to travel the world and make lots of money.  He even goes bankrupt because of a mistake of one of his employees, and would kill himself if it weren’t for an angelic intervention that shows him just how much his life is worth.  And because he has prioritized his neighbors, not money, his entire life, he has an entire town of friends that comes through for him at the end of the story and shows him the sacrificial love he has shown to them. Time and time again George gives up his money and dreams (with great pain) to follow the legacy of his father in serving the disadvantaged members of his community. He doesn’t achieve his dreams, but he lives a wonderful life.

Everyone: there is more to life than material success and excitement and popularity.  Your life is worth something far greater.  Live into God’s purpose for you: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself [Matthew 22:36-40].  In this, you will find yourself truly rich.

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