Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

This year we’re all feeling the need to suppress the frenzy of our Christmas to-do list. I had a wonderful week over Thanksgiving with family out of state. On the flight home I sensed stress rising as I recounted emails and work I still need to catch up on. Added to this is the Christmas tree trimming and decking the halls in time for hosting our small group Christmas party. At the same time I want to focus on what’s really important about this holy season.

This is why I turn to my favorite Christmas movie to usher in the season. It’s a Wonderful Life first released in 1946, at a time when It's a Wonderful Life 518356GQPGL._SY300_Americans needed to be uplifted following WWII. But initially, the film was a box office disappointment, although it received critical acclaim. Nominated for five Oscars, the American Film Institute considers it one of the 100 best American films ever made.

It was only after the copyright ran out that the film was aired multiple times on numerous channels for years. This is when it attracted its far-reaching popularity. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “It’s a Wonderful Life is considered one of the most inspirational and beloved movies in American cinema.”  

It’s the values expressed in the movie that help me to approach the days leading to Christmas with the biblical priorities in mind. There is nothing in Scripture about angels having to earn their wings, but Clarence’s character is instrumental in affirming a suicidal George Bailey how his life has changed the direction of people’s lives for the better. George has always set his dreams and his own best interests aside in favor of others’ needs.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his lifefor his friends” (John 15:13).

When inundated with commercials that feed desires for more stuff I’m convinced I must have, watching this unfolding theme corrects my perspective. Opportunities abound to apply this theme not only at Christmas time, but also throughout the year. I want to always put my clients’ best interest ahead of my personal gain. You have been gifted to write. Hand over your dreams for your writing career to God and focus on imparting true hope and inspiration to your audience.

It’s a Wonderful Life inspires the best in godly character and confirms the meaningful rewards we reap from such living. George Bailey’s family and friends—those many people whose lives he had blessed—prayed for him and came together to meet his need in his darkest hour.

What additional themes in this film do you see that contribute to its endearing quality? What is your favorite Christmas movie, and why?

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41 Comments

  • One thing about “It’s a Wonderful Life” that I find striking, is that we don’t know, and may never know, the effect we’ve had on others.

    To give a “Books and Such”-related example – several years ago, the first query I ever sent was to Rachelle Gardner, at her previous agency. She passed, but her kind response, complimentary of both my writing style and the story’s premise, has stayed with me, and served as an inspiration to keep writing through the most discouraging times.

    I doubt she remembers it, or would have considered that her words changed a life. But it was and is so, and so it must be, in some way, for all of us.

    My favorite Christmas movie is not Christmas-themed, to put it mildly. It’s “Tears of the Sun”, about a SEAL who decides, against orders, to try to save a group of African refugees.

    I like it first for its decency and heart, and for its strong message of faith. In the opening scenes, there’s the line “God already left Africa”. From this ‘pit’, the film shows that God hasn’t left at all, and that He acts through our hearts of compassion and sacrifice.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      So true, Andrew. We may never know the affect we have on people this side of heaven. One thing is for sure: we do affect people for good or for bad. It’s a good reminder to always saturate our interactions with grace.

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Tears of the Sun,” but I will surely try to find it. I’m convinced people are hungry for such movies that exhibit these values.

    • Oh, my word. I LOVED “Tears of the Sun”!! People who think Bruce Willis cannot act need to see that film. I wept throughout that story and then at the end.
      That film also has the power to change lives, if people get angry enough.

  • Oh, Mary … this is our favorite Christmas movie. We watch it every year as we put up our Christmas tree and decorate it. This year, our oldest daughter actually stopped decorating to watch the movie. My husband and I love repeating George’s comment to Clarence about money, “It comes in pretty handy down here, Bub!” It’s just a lovely movie filled with hope and as you said, we matter … the power we have to encourage others is critical … through our voice, the written word.

    And it is a sweet reminder that God can have great plans for something the world considers useless. His plan is never thwarted.

    Thank you for such a sweet, encouraging post, Mary.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Shelli, we have the same tradition in our house. When the movie ceased to be aired on TV channels, we bought the VHS tape. When it came out on DVD, we bought that.

      You can be sure your daughter was soaking in the Christ-like values expressed in the film. I’m convinced this is why It’s a Wonderful Life endures. I hope you had a sweet time doing your tree trimming.

  • Jaime Wright says:

    I’m a White Christmas girl all the way. Outside of melting every time Bing Crosby opens his mouth to croon, I treasure the sentimental memories of the film. Its WWII era celebration of heroes touches dear to my heart because outside of it being my favorite era in time, it’s also the time the greatest hero in my book ever lived: my Grampa. So I resonate with WII because of my Grampa’s sacrifice. I also love the messages of putting yourself aside to touch someone’s life–someone who feels alone and worn down. It’s just a great movie all around. I pray the Lord can use me this Christmas season to spread the HOPE to the down and out. Maybe I WILL buy that guy on the corner a Happy meal after all…thx, Mary!

    • Jeanne T says:

      I love this movie too, Jaime. The story, the songs, the hope. I haven’t pulled it out to watch . . . yet. :)

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jaime, I can see why your Grampa’s heroism and sacrifice make White Christmas so special to you. And as you suggested, it is important for Christians to exhibit those qualities to our jaded world that thinks these values are fantasy and fluff.

    • I love that movie as well, Jaime. Every time I see it, I ache to be able to step inside the screen and live in that era of decency, community, and sacrifice for others. Oh, and I want to wear Judy’s dress from the last scene. :)

  • Micky Wolf says:

    Appreciating all the Books & Such posts these days–lots of inspiration and encouragement. The true meaning of Christmas is permeating this whole ‘place’. Thank you! :) “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a wonderful gift–as a movie [one of my favorites too] and in the birth and life of our Jesus.

  • Jeanne T says:

    Mary, what a beautiful post. I love Christmas movies, and It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my absolute favorites! I was thinking about watching it with my boys today, since they’re home for a snow day.

    Like Andrew mentioned, one of the themes I loved about this movie was how greatly one life impacts those around him. I cry at the end of this movie. Every time. Watching how people come together to help George Bailey touches me on a deep level.

    A less prominent theme I see is how committed Mary and George are to each other, even in the difficult times.

    Two other movies I LOVE are Going My Way with Bing Crosby and Holiday Inn. More modern, I love the movie, The Christmas Child.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jeanne, yes, the message that our lives impact those around us is a good reason to usher in the season with this movie. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to exhibit grace–even sacrifice–as we interact with weary store clerks, delivery people, and neighbors in need. I believe our hurting world is hungry to have hope that godly values expressed in these inspiring movies are real. In our writing and actions, we can show them that through Christ it is so.

      Going My Way and Holiday Inn are on my viewing list this season too. I hope to see The Christmas Child too.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Oh…and I agree, the love and commitment between Mary and George is beautiful, actually a powerful example of faithfulness. Thanks for mentioning it, Jeanne.

  • Jenny Leo says:

    I love It’s a Wonderful Life! My tradition is to watch it on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, egg nog, cookies, and tissues at hand.

  • I’m a bit ashamed to say, Mary, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” all the way through, and I don’t know why. But I just emailed my husband to suggest that we need to buy it. :)

    One of my new favorites is “The Nativity Story.” Mary’s quiet acceptance of the news from the angel is so inspiring, and she handles the disdain from others at her unwed pregnancy with grace and dignity. After Joseph receives his news and accepts Mary as his wife, his attitude toward her is tender and compassionate. As we humans tend to do, Mary and Joseph both question their situations but not with rebellious attitudes. I always need tissues.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Ah…The Nativity Story is one I sometimes forget, but the realistic human expressions of commitment to God’s will, trust and loving treatment of each other are an inspiring lesson. Thanks for the reminder, Meghan. I’ll be sure to add it to my viewing list this year. And I hope you enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life.

      • Kiersti says:

        The Nativity Story is definitely one of my favorites…the beauty, simplicity, reverence and realism with which it portrays the story of Jesus’ coming never fails to move me. I also like watching Little Women around Christmastime…even though it’s not purely a Christmas movie, two Christmases play important roles in the story! And it’s just such a lovely family tale graced with love and faith.

    • Jeanne T says:

      I love the Nativity Story too, Meghan. My hubby and I watch it every year, just before Christmas. We’re debating if our kids are old enough to join in this tradition. It always leaves me in quiet wonder.

  • OH MY WORD!! We had no power for FOUR hours!!! And I was fine.
    Totally…
    ****

    Okay, ‘enduring theme’ in IAWL? One thing that draws me is the simplicity of the era. The abiding sense that a strong and loving family is the anchor for what makes a person good, and whole. Poor George Bailey forgot that and look where he ended up? It wasn’t the money that saved him, it was the love and generosity of those around him.

    Favourite Christmas film? There’s an older (1991) Australian mini-series called “Golden Fiddles.” It starred Kate Nelligan and John Bach, and a very young Cameron Daddo. The family were barely surviving on their farm, yet loved each other deeply. They took joy is each other’s accomplishments, and strove to stay together. When the inheritance from a far away uncle gives them wealth beyond measure, they find out that life is very hard, far more difficult in fact, because what brought them happiness before, cannot be bought for all the money in the world.

    The title comes from the lovely poem by Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Last Chantey’, that the youngest son recited in the local fair, and for his family at Christmas.

    “Loud sang the souls of the jolly, jolly mariners,
    Crying: “Under Heaven, here is neither lead nor lee !
    Must we sing for evermore
    On the windless, glassy floor ?
    Take back your golden fiddles and we’ll beat to open sea !”

  • Have you seen the Christmas special aired in 1977 called Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey? It’s a fictional tale of the donkey that carried Mary. Roman soldiers mistreat him, and his mother sacrifices her life to save his. Then an angel appears with some wise instruction (as angels are apt to do). “Your ears can do wondrous things no other ears can do. The sounds they hear will guide you on a path that’s straight and true, and then you will save another, as your mother once saved you.”
    Nestor becomes a four legged hero of sorts. It’s a sweet, memorable story.

  • What lovely posts this week, Mary.

    I’ve always enjoyed this movie for the reasons so many have stated. Another one of my favorites is Christmas Child starring William Moses and Steven Curtis Chapman, based upon a Max Lucado book.

    A Chicago journalist (Moses) whose marriage is on the rocks, is sent to Texas for a story after the death of his adoptive father. What he’s really searching for, however, is the answers behind his mysterious birth. He has no family, so that makes it even harder.

    I originally wanted to watch it because the journalist’s wife is played by Megan Followes (Anne of Green Gables). What I found was a wonderful story filled with Christmas spirit.

    • Jeanne T says:

      This is one of my contemporary favorites too, Cheryl. Love it!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Cheryl, you are the second person to mention Christmas Child. I may have to purchase this one too, because fewer and fewer Christ-centered Christmas shows are being aired on TV in recent years. Maybe this contemporary story will become a classic like some of the older films mentioned.

  • Lora Young says:

    I love the ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the townspeople come together to help George. Makes me tear up just thinking about it.

    My favorite Christmas movie is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I can’t read Luke 2 without hearing Linus’s voice reciting those verses.

    • Lora, my family enjoys “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as well. Cue the wonderful music that will now get stuck in my head all day. :-)

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has been one of our family’s favorites for many years too, Lora. When our children were young, we used to watch it on TV every year. It was always one of the first Christmas shows aired, usually before school was out for Christmas vacation. Our children would get in their pajamas and watch it before they went to bed. It left calming, tender thoughts in their minds as they went to sleep.

  • CHRISTMAS MUST BE TONIGHT
    I love this song written in 1971 by Robbie Robertson (of The Band) when his son was born.

    Listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5bKtRU0Q6c

    Follow the song along with the lyrics below:

    CHRISTMAS MUST BE TONIGHT

    Come down to the manger, see the little stranger
    Wrapped in swaddling clothes, the prince of peace
    Wheels start turning, torches start burning
    And the old wise men journey from the East

    [Chorus]
    How a little baby boy bring the people so much joy
    Son of a carpenter, Mary carried the light
    This must be Christmas, must be tonight

    A shepherd on a hillside, while over my flock I bide
    Oh a cold winter night a band of angels sing
    In a dream I heard a voice saying “fear not, come rejoice
    It’s the end of the beginning, praise the new born king”

    [Chorus]
    How a little baby boy bring the people so much joy
    Son of a carpenter, Mary carried the light
    This must be Christmas, must be tonight

    I saw it with my own eyes, written up in the skies
    But why a simple herdsmen such as I
    And then it came to pass, he was born at last
    Right below the star that shines on high

    [Chorus]
    How a little baby boy bring the people so much joy
    Son of a carpenter, Mary carried the light
    This must be Christmas, must be tonight

    (Amen: I believe this is truly a modern Christmas Carol.

    • You might also check out “Better Days”, by the Goo Goo Dolls. Here’s a link –

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-kHleNYIDc

      The line “Tonight’s the night the world begins again” catches me every time.

      It’s tempting to think that the past was closer to God…but we cannot reject the present.

      The present is God’s gift to us.

      • Very Cool! Very cool -indeed.

        Because God lives outside of time, fortunately for us, there is no past present or future in his eyes.

        And just like God has no grandchildren, we are as close to him in time as those people of the past (who have passed on) and those people in the future, (who have yet to be born).

        Kudos to you my friend. Good food-for-thought.

    • End Note:
      Not to bore you with any further information – I felt compelled to explain why this special song, “Christmas Must Be Tonight”, does not fit the recipe for a holiday hit song.
      “Christmas Must Be Tonight” is not raucous and boozy, nor does it lift material or a theme from a classic song, nor is it an overly sweet sentimental song. It doesn’t have a contemporary quasi-political message or is it funny along the lines of, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause, nor is it a novelty song like Rockin’ Around the Xmas Tree or Run, Rudolph, Run.
      What “Christmas Must Be Tonight” is in intent – quite unashamedly – is a modern day Christmas carol. Like most classic carols, Christmas Must Be Tonight” rests on a strong, beautiful and memorable melody line.
      “How a little baby boy – bring the people so much joy”
      “Christmas Must Be Tonight” was written and performed by one of the greatest bands that wrote songs in the 60’s and 70’s, describing the American landscape using words and music.
      Before they became The Band, they were Bob Dylan’s back-up band.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      A “modern Christmas Carol.” That is a good way to describe it, Donnie. I went to the link and listened. The reverence in The Band’s voices was beautiful.

  • Angela Mills says:

    I love It’s a Wonderful Life! My mom always watched at Christmas time and I didn’t appreciate it until I was older. Another favorite is White Christmas. I always watch A Christmas Story with my family, too, and Elf is a newer favorite!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      I didn’t know about A Christmas Story until about 15 years ago. But since then it’s been a family favorite in our house too. The humor and close-knit family living during simpler days is refreshing.

      And of course, White Christmas. The old ones endure.

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