Tuesday, December 25
A man stands on a bridge in the snow on a dark, cold night contemplating suicide. He believes life has failed him. He thinks he has lost his family, his business, and his dreams, and faces only the dismal prospect of bankruptcy, incarceration, and shame. Before he can jump, a strange little elderly man beats him to it and cries for help from the freezing waters. Out of instinct the man jumps and saves the drowning man who is a timid soul named Clarence, an angel-in-training who is trying to earn his wings – 1946, Republic Films. It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra and starring Lionel Barrymore as the evil Mr. Potter, Donna Reed as the lovely Mary, Henry Travers as Clarence, and the inimitable Jimmy Stewart as Everyman, George Bailey.
Panned by the critics and a commercial flop, the film was nominated for five academy awards, won none, and never really became popular until it was seen in endless reruns on television in the 1970’s when it broke into the public domain. It is now, of course, recognized as a beloved Christmas classic and one of the most heartwarming movies ever made. Every man’s life has meaning, Clarence teaches George after George discovers what life would have been like in Bedford Falls if he had gotten his wish and had never lived. “Strange, isn’t it? Every man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he is not around, he leaves an awful hole? . . .You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”
We are all like George Bailey. That is the reason the movie resonates. When our lives become boring, predictable, or difficult and our dreams distant and lost, we all wonder if life has any meaning. Among billions of other lives, in an infinite universe, we
question whether one single life has any significance. Or is it as the existentialists suggest – we are born, we live, we die, and all is absurd. In his new book, The Search for Meaning: A Short History, Dennis Ford observes:
Does life have meaning? Before the question is asked, we live in a state of innocence, but once the question becomes a question, once we ask whether life is meaningful, there is no turning back. The possibility that our lives may be pointless leaves us naked and vulnerable.
In other words, we find ourselves standing on the bridge with George Bailey.
Then along come the three quickest months of the year: October, November, and December – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Advent should be the time that we slow all that down. Advent should be a time when we reaffirm our faith that one single life can make all the difference and that in that life and through that life, our lives and the lives of our family, friends, co-workers, and all those touched by our lives can find meaning, purpose, direction, and hope.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
As we meditate upon the coming of the Christ Child, Advent tells us, as would Clarence, “Congregation Arise – It’s a Wonderful Life.”
– Van Pool