The Wise Guise has enjoyed presenting high-quality Christmas content since our first year. We’ve posted old Christmas-themed Facebook notes from yours truly in addition to the infamous 2012 Christmas Movie Smackdown and a Christmas YouTube Hall of Fame. As I write this, I continue my tradition of watching classic TV Christmas specials late at night. Currently, for the first time ever, while watching Frosty Returns, I realized that Elisabeth Moss (Peggy from Mad Men) voiced the protagonist Holly in Frosty Returns. A Christmas miracle if there ever was one!
This year, I’ve decided to blog about several less memorable scenes of classic Christmas films. It’s not that these scenes haven’t always been special, but instead, they are scenes overshadowed by their place in the film, other more iconic moments, or in my case, scenes that are more memorable to a child’s mind when I first saw the film compared to re-watching these films as an adult.
Beginning with this first post, I wanted to dive into the church scene from Home Alone. I still remember seeing Home Alone in theaters when I was four years old. Every Christmas, I’d dust off the VHS or DVD or watch it on TV. This year was no different. When I was a kid, the church scene was the one that bored me the most. Finding myself restless and anxious for Kevin versus The Wet Bandits with his house filled with booby traps, I’d want the church scene and serious conversation with Old Man Marley to just hurry up and be over.
Now, as I’ve become an adult starting my own family with my own son, it’s the scene in the church that I want to last forever because it’s so rich and emotionally powerful. For those of you that haven’t done your duty and rewatched Home Alone already this year, here are two YouTube clips. Neither is high quality, but together, they capture the best 8 minutes of the film.
The scene begins with Kevin walking the streets, lonely on Christmas Eve. He looks in on families celebrating together, and finds himself afraid of the coming attempted burglary in addition to recognizing how much he took his family for granted. Perhaps I took my own family for granted at Kevin’s age while I watched the film. We probably all do to some extent.
Now is as good a time as any to point out the powerful role of music in these scenes. Words can’t describe their power, but it resonates powerfully, tugging your emotions to feel lonely with Kevin while warm and longing for your Christmas memories with your own family.
Then, Kevin arrives at the church. He doesn’t really want to go in. Is he ashamed? Does he feel like he’s not worthy? With the Nativity Scene Kevin used for security in hiding earlier in the film resting in the background, Kevin begins to traipse through the snow towards the church.
It’s at this point that “O Holy Night” is being sung by the children’s choir inside the largely empty church. The first lyrics we hear are the forceful, “Fall on your knees O hear the angels voices/O night divine O night when Christ was born/O night divine, O night, O night divine.” Whether intended by the director or not, we first get a glimpse of Kevin from where the Cross would normally hang, with the choir in the foreground and Kevin in the far distance. This church is as large as it is majestic. We zoom in on Kevin as he begins walking down the aisle, focusing on the stained glass windows and other artwork as he does. He feels overwhelmed while also being drawn in, feeling safe even if he doesn’t understand why.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
Feeling safe, Kevin takes a seat. Then he discovers Old Man Marley, the boogie man his older brother had warned him about, the mysterious neighbor who was rumored to be a snow-shoveling-serial killer.
He comes over and approaches Kevin, wishes him a Merry Christmas, and they sit and talk. You know the rest of the story by now.
Kevin has been home alone, separated from his family, feeling lonely and guilty. Old Man Marley has been separated from his family much longer, including his grand daughter singing in the children’s choir. Marley got in a fight with his son Christmases ago and they’re now estranged. Kevin first lies to Marley about being a good boy the past year, but Marley kindly and gently asks again, and Kevin confesses to being a pain lately, saying things he shouldn’t have.
Kevin lays bare his confusion about his feelings about his family. Marley replies, “How you feel about your family is a complicated thing. Deep down, you always love them. But you can forget that you love them. And you can hurt them. And they can hurt you.”
As Marley tells Kevin the reason why he’s seeing his granddaughter sing at the rehearsal instead of the performance later that night, Marley tells Kevin he’s not welcome. Kevin replies, “At church?” Marley reminds him, “You’re always welcome at church.”
The Gospel or Christmas Story isn’t directly preached in Home Alone, but whether it’s the lyrics to O Holy Night, the imagery, or the narrative about families and the role of the church in being a refuge away from the cold and lonely world, Home Alone has a powerful part to play each Christmas season.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
We sometimes forget what Christ’s birth was all about and assume that it’s a story we know so well, overlooking the mysteries and the majesty right before us. Everyone was looking for a new King. Everyone was looking for Immanuel, God with us. Strength. Power. Glory.
All those things arrived, but it happened in the dirtiest and most humble places as the rest of society and culture had determined there was no room or place for Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus Christ. We often forget that mangers were not the pristine statues we have at church and cartoon-ish Fisher Price play sets we had as kids. Mangers were more like caves, muddy and murky, cold and desolate.
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.
The world was lonely and cold, filled with shame. We were lonely and cold, filled with guilt and shame. Like Kevin, we were confused about our feelings and unsure of our future. Like Marley, we were jaded by the mistakes of the past and feeling hopeless for any redemption or reconciliation.
This Christmas season, there’s a lot to hold our heads down about. Stresses of life with family and jobs and friends. Uncertainties about the future. Poverty at our doorsteps and in our communities. Evil spreading around the world. Injustice in our social structures. Communities crying out for hope and justice in the face of tragedy and heartbreak.
It’s into this world, beset by sin and heartbreak and injustice and tragedy, that God became incarnate, through his Son. It’s into the trenches of the manger that Christ was born. Into the trenches of our lives.
The Church, the Body and Bride of Christ, still serves as a refuge and a reminder for all of us this Christmas season. May we be humble and broken enough to go there, as Kevin and Old Man Marley did.