I love Christmas music and movies. As soon as December arrives, I tune in to my playlists or Pandora, Netflix and Prime to the new and classics. This year, they feel even more important than ever before.
My son is now old enough to enjoy these holiday favorites with me, so we just finished watching “Home Alone.”
Not having paid much attention to it before, on this viewing I noticed that the theme of redemption runs throughout the film. The particular moment I locked into was in the character of Old Man Marley, who always seems to be shoveling.
Early on, Marley is the subject of a misleading story and throughout the movie is a mysterious and ominous character. Until the main character, 8-year-old Kevin McCallister, encounters him in a church, and they exchange stories about their lives. We learn that Old Man Marley and his son are estranged, and he has come to the church to see his granddaughter as she rehearses with a choir because he is not welcome at the performance.
The song the choir sings as that scene opens is “O Holy Night.” Ever since my father sang it as a solo in church, I have loved it.
In 1855, Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight wrote the English version of it, which is based on the French poem “Minuit chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by poet Placide Cappeau. The song tells the story of Jesus’ birth, but it also communicates a redemption message.
Most of us probably know the opening lyrics, with stars brightly shining on the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
In that first verse as I reflect on 2020, I cannot help but embrace this song.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”
It has been a weary year.
We have had weary years before, of course. The lesser-known third verse written by Dwight has become poignant to me in recent years ever since I heard the Atlanta-based Indigo Girls sing it a few years ago at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. Early abolitionists in the North especially resonated with this verse too:
Truly he taught us to love one another;
his law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother;
and in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
let all within us praise his holy name.
These words continue to call us to the necessary and important work of justice and peace, love and hope as we look ahead to 2021. In that scene with Kevin and Old Man Marley, the wisdom of an eight-year-old reigns. Kevin plants the seed for redemption as he encourages Marley to reconcile with his son. At the end of the movie as Kevin peers outside to the snowy scene, we see Marley and his son’s family together for Christmas. “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
As the pandemics of a virus and racial injustice continue to rage and the world groans from our abuse of it, I feel weary. Until I catch a glimpse of my eight year old deeply engaged in this scene in the church. The responsibility I have to help him know why we wear masks and keep our distance right now floods my mind. The chains of the oppression of centuries of racism make my heart race, and I remember how much he has to learn about humanity and its redemption. I am still learning too.
All of a sudden, I felt a thrill of hope, and my weary soul rejoiced. The work of redemption is not only the work of the babe in a manger, but it is my work, your work, and the work of all humanity.
Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. This is the message of Christmas that requires our attention the entire year. Let it be so in 2021.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is a United Methodist minister and college chaplain who lives in Oxford.