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FIRST-PERSON: Christmas traditions are worth cultivating

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Christmas traditions are what help make the present holiday season special for me. My family uses the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth to emphasize not only our faith in a glorious God who provides salvation through his only begotten Son, but also to focus on living life to the fullest.

Each and every year during the Christmas season I perform a ritual that some find amusing. My children are only now beginning to appreciate this particular tradition. As long as I have my faculties I will repeat this act because it has meaning for me. What is the holiday custom to which I refer? My family’s annual viewing of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

I am proud to say I own a video version of the 1946 classic produced and directed by Frank Capra. Thus I do not have to scour the TV Guide in order to know when it will appear on television. I simply wait for an appropriate time and pop “It’s a Wonderful Life” into the VCR. The family and I then sit back and soak up the inspirational lessons conveyed in the timeless story of a life well lived.

For those who have never seen “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it focuses on a fictional character named George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) who lives life by following the example set by his father of seeking to make life better for other people. Though George has dreams of becoming a person of worldly success, when faced with critical life decisions he repeatedly chooses to put other peoples needs ahead of his own.

All is well in George’s life when on a Christmas Eve, through a circumstance beyond his control, he finds himself in a significant financial bind. The CEO of a local building and loan, he learns that $8000 is missing from his business’s account. George approaches the town’s richest and meanest man, Mr. Potter, seeking a loan. When he offers a $15,000 insurance policy with only $500 of equity as collateral, Potter not only turns him down, but retorts, “You’re worth more dead than alive.”

While pondering his options, George prays. When is the last time you saw the main character in a major motion picture pray an earnest and sincere prayer? In desperation he confesses he is at the end of his rope and asks God to show him the way. However, thinking God has not heard his prayer George seriously contemplates suicide.

Enter Clarence, an angel sent by God to help George in his time of need. He shows George how important his life has been by revealing how different reality would be for all concerned had he not been born. Not only would the whole community of Bedford Falls be significantly altered, but the lives of people he had never met would also have been affected.

After his angelic revelation, George decides life is worth living after all. He returns home anticipating the worst but willing to face whatever comes with enthusiastic joy. However, what George does not know is that his life of selfless sacrifice is about to pay off. The people he has helped through the years have given more than enough to make up his financial deficit. Thus making for a warm and happy ending.

In a day when the majority of movies feature crude language, crass sexual innuendo, immoral relationships, gratuitous violence, and/or stark cynicism, “It’s a Wonderful Life” comes across as maudlin and overtly optimistic. I suppose that is why I like it. It is a reminder that Hollywood once made films that not only entertained, but also inspired. “First to exalt the worth of the individual. Second, to champion man. And third to dramatize the viability of the individual,” is how Frank Capra articulated his film making philosophy. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he accomplished all three.

Frank Capra’s film reinforces that prayer is a worthwhile activity. It also underscores that life is a precious gift to be lived with great care. Another inspirational thought conveyed in the film is that true significance is achieved by helping others realize a better life. We may not travel far or amass vast sums of money, but we can still have a positive impact on those around us. “It’s a Wonderful Life” also communicates that a life lived on timeless principles is a life well lived and a “wonderful life” in the truest sense. And in the Boggs’ home, viewing it at Christmas is a tradition worth cultivating.
Boggs is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs