Home Alone

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
Throughout the season of Advent – which this year encompasses the four weeks leading up to December 25 – we’re looking at classic Christmas movies and how they might connect us to the miracle of God choosing to become a human being.

Bad assumptions can lead to big mistakes.
Shortly before shooting began in 1990 on a new Christmas movie written and produced by John Hughes, Warner Brothers executives refused to authorize a slight budget increase.  They assumed the movie wasn’t worth investing a few extra bucks.
Big mistake.  Fox immediately picked up the Hughes project, approved its budget of $18.2 million, and watched it become a global phenomenon.  Home Alone to date has earned almost $800 million and remains the highest-grossing live-action comedy of all time. 
As critic Jeremy Arnold recounts, Hughes got the idea for the movie “right before a family trip to Paris.  He was going over a list of things not to forget when he wondered what would happen if he ‘forgot’ his youngest child.”  Within a few weeks he had written a new screenplay.  From the start he imagined young Macaulay Culkin playing Kevin McCallister, an eight-year-old who is accidentally left at home when his family makes a mad dash to the airport a few days before Christmas. 
Kevin immediately makes a couple of assumptions.  He must be so unimportant to his family that they failed even to notice his absence. 
On the other hand, it dawns on him that being alone might turn out to be a blast.  He takes over the house.  He can finally enjoy a cheese pizza without his big brother grabbing the last slice.  He can celebrate Christmas all by himself.
Then loneliness sets in.  He visits a local Santa and admits that what he really wants is to be reunited with his family by December 25.
Along the way he has to fend off the Wet Bandits, a pair of bumbling burglars played by Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci.  It was a great year for Pesci.  Goodfellas was in the theaters at the same time, featuring his performance as a murderous mobster, for which he would receive an Academy Award.  Home Alone was a welcome change of pace.    
Hughes imagined the McCallister house as a weapon that Kevin, with his childlike imagination, could deploy against the burglars.  Daniel Stern’s “tarantula shriek” remains one of the top 10 movie screams of all time. 
To steel himself for the final Christmas Eve battle defending his home, Kevin drops into a local church during a choir rehearsal. There he comes face to face with Old Man Marley, his neighbor.  Kevin has always assumed that the stories told about this reclusive man are true.  He is a serial killer known as the South Bend Shovel Slayer.   
But during a tender conversation, he finds out he’s wrong.  Marley is suffering through a prolonged separation from his family.  He hesitates to call his son because he’s afraid he won’t be willing to talk.
Kevin asks, “No offense, but aren’t you a little old to be afraid?”  Marley replies, “You’ve never too old to be afraid.”
The young boy and old man find common ground.  They’ve made unwarranted assumptions about the scariness of visiting basements and whether family arguments can ever be resolved.  Before the movie ends, Marley will save the day – by using a shovel, no less.  Here’s their church conversation:  Home Alone (1990) || Church full scene || Kevin & Old Man Marley || with Subtitles – YouTube
About six weeks ago I began to receive calls from a number I did not recognize. 
If I answered the phone, there was always a brief moment of silence.  Then I could hear the background thrum of a Call Center, where a number of associates were having conversations.  After about five seconds someone would say, “Is this Mr. McDonald?”  Once I listened long enough to hear the associate say to me, “I’d like to talk to you about some money that you owe.”
I knew this drill.  Older people (OK, that would be me) are frequent targets of scam artists.  They pose as representatives of the IRS or my bank or some organization that insists I have a debt to pay.  If I don’t comply, financial penalties will begin to kick in and I might soon find myself standing before a judge.  “No, thank-you,” I said, and hung up.
But they just kept calling.  At all hours.  Early in the morning, late at night, and even on weekends.  Mary Sue encouraged me not to answer.  But on a couple of occasions I couldn’t resist.
As one of the associates launched into her canned speech I said, “Oh, I’m so glad you called.  I’m hoping you’re going to help me receive the $6,000 you owe me.  That’s the purpose of your call, right?”  She stammered a bit and said, “Uh, I don’t know anything about that.”  Of course not.  Another time I berated the caller.  “Do you honestly feel good about yourself trying to rip off vulnerable people?” – making it abundantly clear that I was not going to be one of those people.
The calls kept coming.  Once again I decided to answer.  This time, however, the associate got in a word before I could say anything. “Mr. McDonald, I represent a debt collection agency, and you owe this amount of money to a local veterinary clinic.” 
I was absolutely stunned.  She was describing a real debt for services that had actually been rendered five months earlier.  We had assumed the clinic had had our credit card on file, and the bill had already been paid. 
More specifically, I had assumed that I was right.  I knew what I was talking about.  I even assumed I had earned the privilege of talking rudely to people who were just doing their jobs. 
We paid the bill and apologized to the vet clinic.   Then, a few days later, I redialed the number of the folks who had called me so many times.  One of the associates answered.  I admitted I had behaved dreadfully.  He laughed.  “It’s OK, Mr. McDonald, people treat us that way all the time.”  That was a deeply sad thing to hear.  I wished him a happy Christmas, and he did the same.  And I resolved to be vigilant concerning future assumptions. 
Bad assumptions can lead to big mistakes.
That is certainly true when it comes to relating to God.   
If we’re going through hard times, we might assume that God is angry.  We must have offended him somehow.  Or if we’ve pursued a relationship or a pattern of behavior that we know is flat wrong, and there haven’t been any negative consequences, we might assume that God doesn’t care about integrity or holiness after all.
Those are major mistakes. 
Spiritual assumptions must be tested against the truths of God’s Word.  What we think and feel on our own will never cut it. 
The accounts of Jesus’ birth, likewise, are famously illustrative of how assumptions can take us down the wrong path.  Those awaiting the Messiah’s birth assumed that God would arrive in spectacular fashion, armed to the teeth, ready to elevate Israel and chop the Roman Empire down to size.  Herod assumed that he could thwart God’s plan with a show of force. 
What no one saw is that God’s Son would be born to a peasant couple in a backwater sheep town and grow up as a helpless, vulnerable child – which is exactly what he was.
I can just imagine Kevin McCallister saying to me, “No offense, Reverend McDonald, but aren’t you a little old to be making unfounded assumptions?”
Apparently not.  We’re never too old to misread reality.
But thank goodness, in the spirit of all the classic Christmas movies, it’s never too late for us to go a different way.