- Sunday, December 17, 2023

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is considered one of the greatest movies of all time.

Every year, it tops the list of America’s favorite Christmas films. The American Film Institute cites it as one of the 100 best cinema productions ever made. Hollywood historians have celebrated it as an inspirational classic. Frank Capra said it was his favorite among all the films he directed, and Jimmy Stewart added that playing George Bailey was one of his most cherished roles.

There is no need to belabor the plot here. You already know it. It is pretty simple and boils down to one fundamental question: What would the world be like if it weren’t for the life of one good man? In other words, if George Bailey had never existed, would Bedford Falls be better or worse for it? Does virtue and valor make a difference, and in their absence, how much vice will fill the vacuum?

The universality of this question explains this movie’s appeal. The assumption of one man’s worth strikes a chord in all of us. To see how one selfless act of sacrifice changes everything inspires us all. It touches our soul. It emboldens the human spirit. It gives us hope. Yes, the world can change for the good if just one person chooses to do what’s right.

But the moral of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is more than simple self-reflection. It’s not just a motivational tale. It is one of parallelism — a reflection, if you will, of a larger reality, a shadow of something more substantial. This movie has become a staple of our holiday entertainment because it subconsciously reminds us of an ultimate truth.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a celebration of Christ. It’s not just a fable about George Bailey. It’s about a baby born in a manger. It’s the story of Christmas.

Stop and think about it. What would the world be today if it weren’t for Christmas? In other words, what would life be like if one man, Jesus of Nazareth, had not been born some 2,000 years ago?

Whether you’re a believer in the theology of Christmas or simply an open-minded historian, you have to recognize the impact of the holiday’s sociology and cosmology on Western civilization.

The birth of Christ dramatically changed humanity’s understanding of life and how we live it. From Saul of Tarsus to Emperor Constantine to Wesley, Wilberforce and Whitfield, to Chesterton, Lewis and Mother Teresa, millions of lives have been turned from deception and debauchery to compassion and love because of Christmas.

History tells us that the Greek and Roman cultures stopped the practice of “exposure,” otherwise known as infanticide, because of Christmas. The Celts, Prussians, Aztecs and Mayans abandoned human sacrifice because of Christmas. Sexual fidelity and respect for marriage were normalized in the Western world because of Christmas. Women were no longer considered mere property and chattel because of Christmas. Compassion for the sick and the dying during the great plagues of Europe occurred because of Christmas.

Charity for the poor became expected during the Industrial Revolution because of Christmas. Hospitals, orphanages, child labor laws, education, economic freedom, the dignity of labor, civil rights, private property and racial equality were all established and promoted because of Christmas. The old were honored, slavery was abolished, and the sanctity of human life was celebrated because of Christmas.

The tale of how George Bailey changed Bedford Falls is merely a metaphor for how Christ changed the world. We are told in Matthew 1:21, “His name shall be called Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,” and a brief look at history tells us that this is true.

Christmas not only saves us from our personal sins, but the life of Christ has saved us from the sins of untold others who, before his birth, would have ignored us, used us, oppressed us, enslaved us, or even killed us in the halls of their governments and on the altars of their gods.

So, this year, as you watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time, remember this: “If because of one man’s trespasses, death reigned … [how] much more will … righteousness reign … through the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

Merry Christmas. Christ’s is a wonderful life, and thank God for it.

• Everett Piper (dreverettpiper.com, @dreverettpiper), a columnist for The Washington Times, is a former university president and radio host.

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