One of my favorites movies is Frank Capra’s Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. I like the corniness depicted in many of the scenes – lassoing the moon, falling through the gymnasium floor into the swimming pool at the dance and Zuzu’s petals – and I long for the picturesque depiction of life in the decades before World War I. I like George Bailey, the lanky banker who gives up everything for everyone else. As I think about the storyline, I am drawn to the characteristics of this man, eager to conquer the world but never quite able to leave Bedford Falls.
The movie’s initial appeal to me relates to the virtue of self-sacrifice. It is George who dives into the water to save his brother, sacrificing his hearing. George continues to serve at the Building and Loan when his father passes, giving the college money he saved to his younger brother. George gives away his honeymoon savings to his customers to stave off a run on the banks. He ultimately gives his life to spare his family and friends only to risk his life to save a stranger. Deep inside me as I watched there stirred the hope that I would be as giving as George Bailey should the circumstance demand.
As I have grown and matured, I discovered another virtue at work in the plot of the movie. What I see throughout “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the Christian characteristic of grace – the bestowing of unmerited favor. I see it in giving up the dreams of exploring the world to remain the bread-winner for the family. I see it in choosing to withstand pain to make sure the distraught Mr. Gower doesn’t poison a child due to his blinding grief. I see it in jumping off a bridge to save Clarence. I see it in taking the blame upon himself for the mistake of another and asking for a loan from Mr. Potter. Grace is infused in almost every scene – whether George is giving money to the ‘bad girl’ in town (even if it is misunderstood and tarnishes his reputation) or rebuilding a dilapidated house into a beautiful home. It is the presence of grace that makes my heart lift every time I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
The grace is infectious as the movie progresses. When George comes home and acts out his frustrations upon the children, Mary suggests that they pray and not retaliate. Grace abounds at the end of the film as every character, excepting Potter, reappears to give to George what was lacking. The grace that George exhibited was also experienced as the shortfall was covered and the town celebrates.
Live out the grace of the season, best exemplified not by a movie from the 40’s but through the gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ. Recognize that He has bestowed upon each one of us the unmerited favor that affords us health and happiness both now and for eternity. Let us likewise share that grace with others, quick to forgive and slow to frustrate. One grace-filled and grace-expressing life does make a profound difference to those around him. And that life, in a word, is wonderful!