The 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis chronicles a year in the life of four sisters. At Christmas time the children learn their father’s employer is sending him to work in New York City. The family will be moving in the new year; news the children don’t take well. Tootie, a spunky and spirited five-year-old, is despondent. Esther, her older sister (played by Judy Garland), comforts her with a song:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.
From now on our troubles will be out of sight.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yuletide gay.
In a year our troubles will be miles away.
Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Precious friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.
In a year we all will be together,
If the fates allow,
We’ll just have to muddle through somehow
And have ourselves a merry little Christmas now.
You’ll have to watch the film to learn whether or not the song helps Tootie cheer up.
Written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is one today’s most popular Christmas songs and has been recorded by hundreds of different artists in every music genre imaginable. And for all the reasons you can imagine, it has been on the minds of a lot of people this holiday season.
It seems like most every other year, we get to the Fourth Sunday of Advent and say something like, “I can’t believe Christmas is already here.” We are so absorbed in the preparations and the parties and the present shopping the days just slip by. This year, however, feels so different. Yes, we are still saying, “I can’t believe Christmas is this Friday” but we are saying it because it just doesn’t feel like at all Christmas. We won’t be going to Grandma’s house (or anywhere else for that matter). There won’t be a packed candlelight service in the church. And we won’t be getting together with friends from far and wide. This year, Christmas is more like a Friday than it is like Christmas. Ah, but next year… what might Christmas 2021 be like? Well, I am not ready to give up on Christmas 2020 yet. I think it has something good in store for us. Something sure is blowing in.
The birth of Jesus looked nothing like how we celebrate it today. There was no tree, no stockings, no presents, no decorations, and no fancy meal. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus did not have matching pajamas to wear nor was there a crackling fire in the fireplace for warmth and atmosphere. They were alone, without family or friends. They did get to travel on that first Christmas day, but not by choice.
In all the years I have preached on Christmas Eve I don’t think I have ever focused a sermon on the setting and circumstances of the stable and manger. I’ve always focused on Christmas’ bigger and grander themes. Perhaps this is the year for us to spend some time with the Holy Family in the humble stable. If you catch yourself feeling down tonight or tomorrow, use it has a prompt to ponder how Joseph or how Mary was feeling on that day so long ago.
I wonder what it was like for them to be in such a meager setting, alone and vulnerable with their newborn. And I wonder what they made of the shepherds’ starlit visit as they pondered the angelic story in the light of the new day. And I wonder how these polar opposites might speak to us on a day and in a season when we have so much to be sad about while at the same time have much to celebrate.
For Mary and Joseph, that first Christmas day was as dark as what I suspect many of ours will be like this year. Still, they had the one thing necessary for Christmas – the Light of the World had come into their lives. So may it be for each of us.
This year, a merry little Christmas may just turn out to be more special than we anticipate. Here is something you may find interesting: antonyms for the word merry include sad, miserable, and unpleasant; antonyms for the word little include overkill, kingsize, and insane. Against these, merry and little don’t seem so bad, do they! Do you know what the antonym is for Christmas? There isn’t any! Christmas stands alone as a day which cannot be undone. It may be different, but it cannot be undone. So hang a shining star upon the highest bow and have yourself a merry little Christmas now.