Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Now

There are two versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  I think I’ve mentioned this before...  There is the “muddle through” version and the “hang a shining star” version.

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?”[1] 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.

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The New House and the Old Tree

A new house needs a new Christmas Tree.

It’s time to get out the decorations, and we’re behind the power curve just from sheer habit now.  I think about the tired old tree  that we’ve had since the first year we got married.  It was purchased with a Wal-mart Gift Card the day after Halloween because we knew we’d be spending our first Christmas apart.  Husband would be at Boot Camp.  We celebrated in November, and I tearfully gave him presents and sang Christmas Carols a month ahead of time.

Eight Chrristmases have passed since then and it’s served us well, but I thought I might be ready for a new one for this ninth Christmas Season. Surely, it’s time for new things. For a new season not laden with So. Much. HARD.

A new house needs a new Christmas Tree.

All is clear on the tumor front, husband is HOME this year, and the back pain that taught me so much about Jesus’ nearness in the midst of our many kinds of pain has miraculously abated with the help of medicine and spinal injections.  So we should be all clear for insane Holiday Happiness of all kinds.

Right?

Except I find I’m all blah-humbug.  I’ve dug so deep all the other years:  The years husband was gone and I had to put on a brave face for little girls missing Daddy, the year that a tumor lurked, the year that a babe was lost, the year that my mother was gone and the world stood on its head, and death and darkness surrounded us thick.

This year I don’t have to dig so deep.  But I find I’m stuck…..  Maybe I don’t know how to do Christmas unless I’m drenched in the darkness.

Maybe when the floor has shifted beneath you for so long you don’t know how to walk on level ground.

But we’re in this new house, and at the beginning of a new season, and I WANTED A NEW STINKING CHRISTMAS TREE!

So we got one.  We tried to find the nicest one we could with a price tag we could afford.

We put it up this morning.  It didn’t take long to realize that it tells the tale of a limited budget much more readily than the story of children with sugar plums dancing in their heads.

Tempers flared over the branches.

I clench and unclench my hands and my jaw.

It just doesn’t look right.  It’s not even a good Charlie-Brown tree.  And even if it was we’re passed the Charlie Brown tree Season, aren’t we?

That’s only part of the story.

The lists of Christmas gifts to buy are so long.  All the things we have to do press in.  I bought Christmas cards so we MUST fill them out right?  But we don’t have a good picture to go with them…  and should I write one of those Christmas letter family-update things?  Is that who we are?  The traditions that MUST BE STUFFED WITH MEANING overwhelm me.  And the kids keep acting like KIDS!!  Don’t they know that we’re supposed to be mild-mannered and full of good-cheer this time of year?

And it dawns on me:

I have to put the line in the sand here.  I have to put the stake in the ground.

It is past time to set the intention of the season.

I haven’t survived all those other Christmases taking upon myself the lessons of each of them for nothing.  I haven’t dug deep into my gut for joy or looked around me for the teeniest-tiniest pinprick of light that I could find to get myself tangled up in the tinsel of the ‘hustle and bustle and whine of our current Christmas culture.’

I will NOT go down this road.

So we take back the new tree.  We put up our old one.  We dip our toe into new traditions and try to hold loosely to old ones.  And I repeat to myself:

Christmas is a time where we embrace the light in the darkness.

Christmas is a time when I remember that God came to be Immanuel.  He put on skin…  and even more incredible, diapers.  And he did it to be with ME, with all of us.

If He can be a light in the darkness, he can be a lifting of the greyness of blah-humbug too.

I have choices.  So many choices about how to DO this holiday.  Even better, I have choices about how to BE this holiday.

I can say no to the events on the calendar, at least some of them.

I can let myself off the hook if we don’t get six dozen picture-perfect Christmas cookies made and decorated.

I can follow my kids’ lead as we try on new and old traditions this year.

I don’t have to get tangled up in the tinsel.  Instead I can snuggle up with the baby in the manger and the babies entrusted to my care sleeping in the bedrooms upstairs.  I can ponder so many things in my heart right alongside Mary.  I can choose to reach into the darkness of someone sitting near me and offer them a share of the light of found.

That old tree has borne witness to Nine Years of our family searching for a light in the darkness.  Maybe a new house doesn’t need a new tree after all.  Maybe instead those branches will anchor us to where we’ve come from as we take on the new seasons of light and darkness coming our way.  Maybe it will whisper to us of light sought-after hard and love poured out and the giggles of our growing girls.

A new house doesn’t need a new Christmas tree.  It needs an anchor to the past and a reminder of the faithfulness we’ve found each and every Christmas.  New tree or old, I hope we always have that.