It’s a Wonderful Life: Joy

  • It’s a Wonderful Life: Joy
  • Luke 2:8-14
  • Bill Couch
  • December 13, 2015
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12-13-15 sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

During this Advent Season we are looking at why Jesus came into our world. He came to bring hope, love, joy and peace. Today we look at the gift of joy that Jesus brings into our lives. Our Christmas Classic movie to illustrate this truth was filmed in 1946 called “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. We will see how the main character, George Bailey, experiences joy in the midst of adversity. Let’s listen to the key word the angels used to describe the good news of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:8-14

As the movie begins it’s Christmas Eve 1945 in the fictional town of Bedford, New York. George Bailey is suicidal. His friends are concerned about him and start to pray. We hear their prayers for him as they reach Heaven. Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd Class, is assigned to save George. To prepare Clarence, his superior Joseph shows flashbacks of George’s life.

At age 12, George rescues his younger brother Harry, who fell through the ice on a pond. AS a result of an ear infection from the icy water, George loses the hearing in one ear. Later, he catches a potentially deadly mistake made by his boss the druggist, who was distracted by the news of the sudden death of his son. George waits for Harry to graduate from high school and replace him at the family business, the Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan. Henry Potter the richest and meanest man in town owned a bank that was in competition with the Bailey Brothers. He did everything in his power to drive them out of business.

On Harry’s graduation night in 1928, George discusses his dreams to build things and travel with admiring classmate Mary Hatch. Suddenly, George’s uncle, Billy, informs him that his father had a stroke. Following his father’s death, George postpones his plans to sort out the business affairs of the Building and Loan which his father left in quite a mess. He talks the board of directors into rejecting Potter’s proposal to dissolve the company, but they agree only on condition that George runs it. He gives his college money he saved up to his brother Harry for his education.

One year later, George marries Mary on the same day as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and is forced to use the money saved for their honeymoon to weather a run on the bank cash reserves.

George starts Bailey Park, an affordable housing project and takes financial risks to help people have decent homes even during the depression. When World War II breaks out George attempts to enlist in the army but is declined because of his bad ear. Harry, however, becomes a Navy pilot and is awarded the Medal of Honor. On Christmas Eve morning 1945, the town prepares a hero’s welcome for Harry. Uncle Billy goes to Potter’s bank to deposit $8,000 for the Building and Loan. After bragging to Potter about Harry, Billy absentmindedly leaves the money behind, and Potter hides it rather than depositing it into the bank.

When Uncle Billy cannot account for the money, he and George frantically search for it. After berating his uncle for endangering the Building and Loan, George goes home and goes on a tirade about all the sacrifices he has made for others and now he is about to lose his business. He yells at Mary, “Everything’s wrong!” After wrecking the living room, he apologizes to his frightened wife and children, then leaves.

Desperate, George appeals unsuccessfully to Potter for a loan. He offers his life insurance as collateral. But he only has $500 equity in the policy so Potter tells him his life insurance policy makes him worth more dead than alive. Potter calls the police to have George arrested for stealing money from the Building and Loan. Desperate and depressed he goes to a bar to drown his sorrows.

Let’s watch what happens:

Video Clip: Show me the way

George is at the end of his rope. He has done everything right. He gave his hard-earned college savings to put his brother through college. His brother was supposed to come back and take over business, but he does not. His brother is the war hero; George is deaf in one ear. He has lived on the brink of poverty providing loans for others to build homes. At the same time, greedy Mr. Potter has prospered by taking advantage of others. Life is just not fair. He sacrificed his dreams of travel and building sky scrapers all to help out his family and the poor, struggling people in Bedford. He has done everything right and what has it gotten him—on the verge of bankruptcy and framed for a crime he did not commit.  His brother is coming home to be honored as a War Hero and George is about to go to prison. George is resentful and angry. He has no joy.

Some of us understand George. Life is not fair. We mistakenly believe that if we do the right thing and sacrifice for others then we should be exempted from problems and in fact should be rewarded with financial and material blessings. When adversity comes—we lose our job, or a loved one dies unexpectedly, or everyone else seems to be living the good life and we are missing out–we become bitter and resentful. Our joy depends on our circumstances and we feel cheated by life and by God who should have taken care of us.

George leaves the bar and crashes his car into a tree. He staggers to a nearby bridge to commit suicide. Let’s watch what happens at the bridge.

VIDEO CLIP: ANSWER TO PRAYER

George does not believe Clarence’s claim to be George’s guardian angel. When George wishes he had never been born, Clarence shows him what life would have been like without him. Bedford Falls is named Pottersville and is filled with cocktail bars, casinos, and shacks. The old druggist went to prison for manslaughter (because George was not there to catch his mistake), and his father’s business failed. Uncle Billy was institutionalized after the stock market crash and he became an alocoholic. In the cemetery, George discovers the grave of his brother, who drowned without his intervention. Consequently, the hundreds of servicemen Harry would have saved are also dead.

Clarence helps George to see that his life made a difference and how differently everyone’s lives would have been without him. Clarence says to him: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t’ around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he…You see, George, you really had a wonderful life.” George runs back to the bridge and begs for another chance. His prayer is answered, and he runs home joyously. He proclaims Merry Christmas to Bedford; the town he had resented. He proclaims Merry Christmas to the Building and Loan, the job he hated. And he proclaims Merry Christmas to Mr. Potter—he expressed love to his enemy. When he arrives home the authorities are waiting there to arrest him. Mary and Uncle Billy rally the townspeople, who donate more than enough to cover the loss. George may be poor in material things, but he realizes he is richly blessed.

Jesus is not specifically mentioned in the film, but the spiritual messages are clear through answered prayers, the presence of angels and the realization that joy does not depend upon our circumstances.

At the first Christmas angels appeared. The Jewish people were at the end of their rope. Years of exile and Roman oppression caused them to cry out for a Messiah. God sent angels to announce the answer to their prayers. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” What is joy? Joy is not dependent upon our circumstances. Joy depends only upon Jesus! Joy does not depend upon money or pleasure or success or fame. Joy is the presence of Jesus and a relationship with him regardless of our circumstances.

Only one thing changed about George’s circumstances—his debt was paid off. He still lived in a modest house and would never see his dreams fulfilled of becoming a builder and traveling the world. What changed was his heart. No longer was he resentful and bitter about all the sacrifices and struggles in his life. Instead his heart was filled with gratitude for his wife, his family, his friends, his job, even his enemy, Mr. Potter—he could wish him well.

When life does not turn out as we had hoped. In the midst hardship, health issues, financial struggles and family feuds—Jesus is still “Immanuel”–“God with us”. We can trust that he will work all things together for good in our lives. He will use us to impact the lives of others. He will enable us to experience more of him through our suffering. The Apostle Peter wrote: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (I Peter 1:6) It seems contradictory, but we can experience joy while we are suffering trials! When we connect with Jesus in the midst of whatever is happening to us, we know we are not alone. How do we connect with him? Just like George, we cry out honestly: “God I’m at the end of my rope. I don’t know what to do. Help me.” And he comes. When the trials hit they will not overwhelm us. We have a power greater than ourselves to see us through. We discover things to be thankful for even in the worst of circumstances. And joy overflows in our hearts.

The Christmas season sets us up for all kinds of disappointments. Expectations are high that everyone will get along, all the presents will be appreciated, all the food will be delicious and raved about. And the reality is that tensions will be high due to old family wounds and jealousies; the presents will be unappreciated and somebody will gripe about the food. Bah hum-bug. If your joy depends on circumstances—you will be in for another disappointing holiday. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. I bring you good news of great joy—Jesus is enough and he is with you. Where do you need to experience the presence and power of Jesus in your life this week?