Being a bit of a
realist cynic, I have preferred for about seven years now the ‘muddle through’ version. “Come next year, we all will be together, If the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow,” Judy Garland sang in Meet Me in St. Louis. Those words gave me permission to live an un-perfect Christmas (un-perfect highlights things better than imperfect in my head today, so I’m going with it).
I have needed that permission repeatedly during the Christmas season as we’ve faced our own special litany of hard and as we’ve teased out the light in different versions of darkness. We’ve found joy each and every holiday season, but there were some that were harder than others and a year or two that were just doozies.
This year though, I started listening to the ‘come next years’ sprinkled throughout that version of the song. And they stuck in my throat. We have time apart from Husband coming down the pike and there is a good chance that our ‘come next year’ will not involve ‘we all will be together’ being a reality. I’m having a hard time this year living in this year and not awfulizing next year. I’m feeling bruised by tragedies that belong to us all and tragedies that have been all my own. And even though I always tell myself not to, I seem to be trying. too. hard. to ‘make Christmas’ in spite of it all.
I got to thinking about this ‘muddling through’ and how the hope in the song is all pinned on the ‘come next years.’ And how that doesn’t really work, nor has it proven true for me. “Come next year,” has always carried with it it’s own kind of muddling.
As I think of the bigger picture, what has always hit the mark in my heart for the song was the focus of hope in spite of circumstances… But maybe in the muddling through version the hope is mis-placed. We’re not supposed to pin our hopes on next year going better. The miracle of Christmas and for me as a Christian living out a life of hope, is that we find joy and hope and peace in the midst of our circumstances now–whatever they might be. My dear friend, Sarah, sent me some thoughts by Thomas Merton on this. He says,
But the fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope.”
And so that expectation of better and of goodness and of brightness and light isn’t a ‘next year’ thing or a ‘tomorrow’ thing or even a ‘when all our ducks finally line up in a row’ thing. It’s a RIGHT NOW thing. IN the muddling.
Even old Blue Eyes and his song-writer got that part of it right
“In 1957, Frank Sinatra asked Martin to revise the line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow”. He told Martin, “The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?” Martin’s new line was “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough”. Martin made several other alterations, changing the song’s focus to a celebration of present happiness, rather than anticipation of a better future.”
So this advent as I muddle through the mess in my own brain… and try not to jump ahead to what next year might look like. As I ache for the tragedy in Newtown… As I miss my mother in a gut-wrenching and unexpectedly fierce way… As I lose my temper with my kids and snap at my husband and am reminded again, and again, and again how very sinful and imperfect I really and truly am….
I also have hope…. Hope in the right now and not just in the ‘not yet.’ Maybe I need to start letting Sinatra’s Song-writers’ alterations in a little bit more, if only to keep my eyes where they need to be: on the shining star, on the light that has overcome all of the darkness, on right now.
That is this year’s light to my darkness. That is Immanuel snuggling up right next to me where I am.
“Through the years, we all may be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bow
and have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.”
Merry Christmas my friends–in whatever NOW you may be living, I wish you hope, and light, and peace. I wish that you would know the meaning of Immanuel right where you are today. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas… now.