The Redemptive George Jones



I like country music.

Three chords and the truth. It’s simple, unpretentious, easy to remember, relatable.

I am particularly fond of older country music, from the Carter family up through the Outlaw days of Waylon, Willie and the boys. My record collection is rife with Johnny Cash, John Prine, bluegrass artists and all manner of guitar pickers, singers and songwriters.

I listened to George Jones the other day, singing perhaps the saddest song ever written, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Jones led a tortured life filled with alcohol, infidelity and personal demons only a few people could possibly know. The lyrics to his songs were often deeply personal and filled with such emotion that hardened men would be reduced to weeping.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today” is such a song. The story of a man who loved a woman so much that he swore he would love her until he died, regardless of the fact that his was an unrequited love.

“They placed a wreath upon his door,

And soon they’ll carry him away,

He stopped loving her today.

As I listened to Jones’ twangy tenor, I sniffled a bit and thought about the sad life of that poor man in the song. That’s when it occurred to me that there was no cause for sorrow. He has been freed from his earthly bounds, and the travails he faced are gone.

Stories of redemption are very powerful and uplifting, and we like to hear them – regardless of whether they be in songs, books, movies or just stories we tell each other about the things that happen to us and how they turned out so much better in the end.

One of my favorite movies of all time is “Rudy,” the (based on a true) story of a young man who wants to attend the University of Notre Dame and play football for them. The problem is he is too slow, too small, his grades are not good enough and he has no money.

Like the real Rudy, I was a Catholic boy who grew up in the Midwest (South Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and played football from the time I could walk. I watched Ara Parseghian-era ND football on the UHF station in Milwaukee on Sunday mornings, via tape delay, after Mass. Also like Rudy, I wanted to go to ND and play football for the Irish.

Unfortunately for me, I was more like Rudy than I care to admit. I was too small, too slow, my grades were not good enough, and I didn’t have any money, either. Unlike Rudy, I shelved my dream and went off to a state school after my high school graduation.

Rudy found redemption. He got in for the final play of the last game of his senior year, sacked the quarterback and was carried off on the shoulders of his teammates. When I watch that scene, my eyes are filled and tears stream down my cheeks. Rudy’s hard work paid off; his struggle was done.

A few weeks from now we will celebrate the birth of our Redeemer. That is a story that bears repeating, over and over and over and over, as mankind has been doing for millennia. When we lead lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, stewards of all he has given us, that redemption, promised and fulfilled so long ago, is ours.

Our song’s hero finally found happiness. Rudy left the field a hero in the eyes of those around him. Instead of being carried away in a box by six men walking in step, or on the broad shoulders of football teammates, we will be carried away on the wings of a dove to meet Jesus face-to-face and bask in the light of his abundant love.

That’s the redemption to which I am looking forward.

May your Christmas be filled with His love and light.

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