It’s a Wonderful Life
Memorial Service at Carmountside Crematorium, Stoke-on-Trent on 3rd December 2017
Reading: Gospel according to St Luke (2:8-14)
When I was a child, one of the things I looked forward to so much at this time of year was the appearance of the Radio and TV Times. In those days you had to get both of course. I’d then open them up and lie them down, side by side, to pick out what was on over Christmas. Morecambe and Wise, of course … and Disney Time … and Christmas Day would begin with Leslie Crowther going round the children’s wards, and a sleepy afternoon would have a recording of Billy Smart’s Circus …
… And then there were the films …
When our children were small it was Home Alone and the Snowman
From my childhood I recall Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines … and The Sound of Music and the Great Escape seemed to be on every Christmas.
But the best films of all, were of course, the black and white ones. And these are still on every Christmas …
Scrooge (the version with Alastair Sim, of course)
Miracle on 34th Street (remade more recently)
And the best Christmas film of all, which in my view exceeds them all … It’s a Wonderful Life.
If you don’t know this film … make sure you watch it some time this Christmas.
It is about a man and one Christmas in the mid 1940s in a small ordinary town somewhere in America.
The town is called Bedford Falls, and the man is George Bailey … an ordinary sort of chap who lived a fairly ordinary life in a very ordinary American town from the 1930s into the 1940s. He has a loving wife and a large family and a fairly comfortable life - but he had been a young man with dreams! He had damaged lungs, after rescuing his younger brother from a freezing pool as a child, but has great ambitions - to travel the world, to see Europe - but he doesn’t even get to serve in the war, as his brother does with great distinction, because of his disability. The problems of the Great Depression mean he has to stay in the small town to maintain the family business, a small mutual bank, a Savings and Loans company, which helps provide affordable homes for the folk of the town.
And then a crisis comes, for which he can’t see a way out, and he believes that his entire life has been a failure, a disaster. None of his dreams have come to pass. He has not seen the world, or served his country, or done any of the wonderful things he had dreamt of as a young man.
He comes to a point of desperation … and goes to the edge of the town to stand on the bridge, not wanting to continue with what he thinks is a wasted life.
And then the angels appears. An eccentric Angel called “Clarence”.
The Film then traces how George Bailey is shown, by this very unconventional angel, what the lives of other people would have been without him: how many people would have been without homes if he had never lived, how his brother would have died, so never have become a war hero, how his Mother would have become a bitter broken woman, his wife a lonely spinster, and the wonderful house which they renovated together for their family of many children would have stood as a ruin.
He sees also how small acts he had done during his life ensured how numerous individuals avoided falling into misery, shame and poverty.
He realises that his very ordinary life has in fact made an extraordinary difference.
Just as, in the Christmas Story, the angels sing above the stable to proclaim that what appears to be very ordinary is in fact extraordinary, so this eccentric Angel called Clarence helps all of us to see that far from being ordinary, or even a failure, George Bailey has changed lives.
And in a few moments now, we will hear and read a long list of names. I don’t know if there is a George Bailey amongst them, yet all of these, in their own way are George Baileys. You will be waiting for one, two or more particular names to appear, and the others may pass you by without much notice: people who in the main are not famous, who did not - we might at first think - leave a mark in history, who appeared quite unexceptional to the world, and yet, who have touched the lives of ourselves and others in innumerable ways, ways which made an extraordinary difference. These are the mothers who loved us and cuddled us when we scuffed our knees, the Dads who helped us learn to ride our bikes, the partners who loved us and - most of the time - put up with us; the sisters who kept our secrets, the brothers who sorted out the bullies; the children who brought sunshine into our lives. And, to be sure, there were times when they irritated us and annoyed us, worried us and frustrated us, times when we fell out, times when they hurt us … and times when we hurt them. None of them were perfect, few of them were saints, but we call them all to mind, because their lives touched ours and so many others in ways that we might hardly know. They made us who we are, and we are here to cherish them.
These are our George Baileys. When you hear those names today of those you do not know, remember that. Like the little homeless child born in a cow shed, like George Bailey in the film who never fulfilled his dreams, each one of them is extraordinary, special, precious, and loved.
Note: 260 names were read out at this service.