How ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Delivers Sermon of Hope
Last year I finally sat down to do what I had wanted to do for a long time – develop a sermon based on the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Only, what I had come to find out after watching it again, was that I could not do a sermon on it, but a sermon series.
That’s because while there is an overarching theme to this film––that one life touches another, and that life touches another, and so on––there are many aspects of this film that can preach, even if it doesn’t intend to.
Take, for example, the very beginning of this film, we see an array of homes, neighborhoods and churches and hear an array of people praying for George Bailey. And, well, they may not see what happens in the Heavens, but we do.
As Smithsonian Magazine puts it:
“The angels, Joseph and Franklin, who appear as clusters of light in space, bring in an apprentice named Clarence, a clockmaker in life, who hasn’t yet earned his wings by offering help to a human.”
While we know this isn’t how it works theologically, it’s still cute to see this particular rendition of an angel helping George. So we can relate how God hears our prayers and sends angelic help on our behalf, though not quite like Clarence.
And what about Clarence?
He’s been patiently waiting in Heaven for 220 years to finally “earn his wings.” So what can be said of him? In a word: perseverance.
Sure, this may not have been the intention of Capra, to bring out some kind of Biblical illustration, but Clarence Oddbody, AS2, does give us a little picture of what it means to never give up.
William Barclay said, “Endurance is needed to run that race. Endurance is translated from the ancient Greek word hupomone, which does not mean the patience which sits down and accepts things but the patience which masters them… It is a determination, unhurrying and yet undelaying, which goes steadily on and refuses to be deflected.” And by gum, that was Clarence Oddbody.
FAST FACT: “It’s a Wonderful Life” originally cast Cary Grant to play George Bailey.
Here’s another one: in the case of George Bailey, how about the idea of God’s plans overruling our own?
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”
And with those two simple verses, we have pretty much 90 percent of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You see, all George Bailey wanted to do was to get out of the small, one-horse town of Bedford Falls, and see the world.
He saved and saved and saved to make that dream a reality. Since he was a child, it was all he really dreamed about; that was the one thing he wanted to do in life.
But unfortunately, one thing after another happened––and well, just when he was about to leave, something urgent came up where he had to set his dream aside, and he had to stay in Bedford Falls and take care of business.
His plans got interrupted. But God’s plans unfolded.
And what were those plans? To touch lives that he otherwise may not have had he not stayed in Bedford Falls.
Probably the biggest lesson we learn from “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the title of the story. We learn that George Bailey, an ordinary man, had a rich life. We can see the contrast between the humble George Bailey and mean Mr. Potter.
While George was never rich in material wealth, he had plenty of love, whereas Mr. Potter had plenty of money, but he did not have love. Kind of similar to what we read in 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul lists a number of items that we can boast about, but if we do not have love, then we have nothing.
Though George may have never had the riches of Mr. Potter, and at times lacked a few “nice things,” George Bailey did end up with a nice home in a nice town, a wonderful family and many friends. And as we learn in the end, regardless of what he lacked in material wealth or having never achieved his dreams, “no man is a failure who has friends.”
And his friends come to his aid when he is down and out. And he almost missed out on that blessing, had he jumped off of that bridge moments before.
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But through the help of Clarence Odbody, angel second class, George realized how different the town of Bedford Falls and even further, would have been had he never lived.
He saved the life of a boy who would have been poisoned when Mr. Gower accidentally put the wrong ingredients in his medicine. By saving that boy’s life, he in turn saved Mr. Gower’s life because he would have gone to jail and been ostracized by the community for having done so.
George Bailey also saved the life of his brother, and in turn, his brother served in World War II and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for having saved the lives of men on a transport vehicle.
He touched so many lives, and he didn’t even realize it. And today, as we enter the Christmas season and then the new year, I want to ask you, how can you be someone like George Bailey?
Maybe you already are, but maybe you just need to stop and realize what life would have been like for others had you never been born. And maybe it’s time to intentionally live a life like George Bailey.
It’s A Wonderful Life’s 75th anniversary: Now revered as 1 of the definitive Christmas films it was a rare flop for Capra upon release, though this was ultimately a blessing in disguise as it fell into the public domain making it a TV mainstay where it gained its legendary status pic.twitter.com/lDoSbK8PgH
— Samuel J. May (@sjmay92) December 20, 2021
This movie is an example of how Hollywood, and our American culture as a whole, used to be. We used to be a people filled with the kind of warmth, community and kindness that this film exemplifies.
And, well, if they want to call us Christian Nationalists, I suppose they could, but they’d be wrong. We don’t want the U.S. to become a Christian nation through legislation, as liberal/progressives misinterpret.
But we want our nation to return to––even exceed––the Christian culture we used to have not so long ago when this movie was made––churches full, people praying, and a culture that reflects Christian values as demonstrated in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
But to do this, we must first exemplify the Christian values of love, service and kindness as demonstrated in the life of George Bailey and pray for revival and another Great Awakening.
Jeff Miller is a husband, dad, pastor, artist, writer and all-around good guy (for the most part). He lives in the Western Finger Lakes Region of New York State with his wife, Diana. He has three grown children. Jeff has two blogs of his own, A Closer Look and Flashback Friday Christian Music Review. Jeff is also a contributor to Kingdom Winds, where you can read his sermons online.
This story originally appeared at A Closer Look.