The holiday classic Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as sung by Judy Garland may be the closest thing to refuting words with musical performance ever heard. You don’t have to know anything about Garland’s sad life to hear the pain in her voice.
She may promise we will muddle through somehow and that next year our troubles will be out of view, but her voice is torn and there is every doubt about merriness. Garland had one of those sad lives, made far worse by bad personal decisions, turned into something “great” by Hollywood. This bright, gifted woman was exploited by the entertainment industry, but also chose . . . badly.
Wealth, fame, multiple marriages, and no amount of chemicals could make a sad person happy. Her music could then be commoditized to become a soundtrack to dark lives growing darker through sin.
Misery, we are told, loves comfort and the miserable, a group that knows my name, often look for minstrels. Instead of taking warning from the wages of sin, we sigh and turn up the music. It is, after all, easier to sigh and keep going the way we are going, then to get help.
My own bad decisions, my own sins, have taught me a few things. I have learned that happiness is possible, but it cannot come by ignoring my faults and problems. There is no medication strong enough to quiet a sad soul and no place to run that will not have me in it when I get there.
If I bring my sin with me, I would ruin any paradise.
Our problems cannot be out of sight if we are part of the problem. If we drink too much, eat to excess, or indulge our passions immoderately, we must stop or things will get worse. We can sit in the candle light with other sad folk and feel as happy and comforted as sad people can feel and that will not be enough.
We need help. Some of us, of course, need medical help. We have problems that can be treated, but will not get better if we hide from treatment. Other things standing in the way of our merry times are of our own making.
We must stop being bad to be really happy.
This too is not enough. Some heroic souls might be able to be good from today on, but still we have harmed ourselves and other people. We long for forgiveness and mercy. We long for a second start. How would not love to be born again?
This is the Christmas message. The gentleman of the old carol are not merry, they are told to rest merry, because Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day. That God is born is by itself bad news to people like Judy Garland and less talented sad folk like me.
God has come and we are not ready. We are not nearly ready.
The good news is that God became a person and decided to be one of us. He suffered, hurt, and was hurt by humanity. In fact, He chose to feel the pain that has been inflicted on every single person that every lived at one horrific moment. God gets it, because God got it.
It is so hard to believe this . . . so hard to let go of my sadness and cynicism about the possibility of mercy and a new start. Nobody rolls eyes at a sad song, because it is so sensible and so easy to be sad. Most cheer is simply mental drunkenness hiding our problems.
But Jesus has not been like that for me. Jesus does not pretend my hurts are not real. He does not say, “Cheer up” in a false way. He makes me feel forgiveness, mercy, and then makes me better inside.
I am still unfit for merry Christmas in myself, but He keeps giving me moments, and even days, of merriment. It is so unexpected that I don’t know if anyone can believe it, but when I don’t hide from Him, when I seek help from Him and from others that He sends, only then is merriment is possible.
This is not cure that comes on cue when my iPhone shows December. It comes by grace and it cannot be manufactured, bought, or sold. It is impossible to have (myself) a Merry Little Christmas.
First, Christmas is not little: it busts every boundary, every mental wall. Second, nobody can be alone and be merry, because man was not meant to be alone. God must show up, because a Christmas without Christ is just a mass of historic associations more likely to depress us by their hollowness than a feast.
Finally, and most gloriously, Christmas comes to the world even if the world only wants a census so that all the world can be taxed. Angels appear and announce Christ was born on Christmas Day whether Caesar approves or not. We are invited to a feast, but the feast will happen even if we insist of sitting our dark room listening to our sad music.
God wants us to come to His party.
Parties are good and in my natural self I am not always sad. Sometimes after Garlanding I feel like a party. Why not strip the joy of Christmas from the full message and just cheer up! God, better than Jack Daniels, will solve all my problems!
This false religious cheer tempts me to point to Heaven and sing with Mariah Carey transmogrified by the pious: “All I want for Christmas is You.”
Fortunately this is so stupid, that I have never heard a Christian try it. God is the beginning and the end of Christmas, but God insists we come to Him in a community: His Church and that Church lives in a sin dark world. The news is good at Christmas, and merriment is possible, but it is in a sin dark world.
Men and women cannot live alone and it is not just God they need. God has designed us to be merry only in the company of other men and women. Some people use religion as a barrier: they are evidently holier than Adam before the Fall. We need each other to be merry and this means perfect merriment will be hard.
My Garland-self refuses hope and my Carey-self refuses imperfection.
So the old carols at Christmas were more hopeful than Garland and wiser than Carey. Carols force us to look up from the muck of our lives and see a Star, but they don’t pretend anybody but Augustus is Caesar. They don’t sing that it is the “happiest season of all,” but that Christ has come to a sin torn world.
God rest you merry, gentleman! Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. My Garland side doesn’t want to stop straying and refuses to acknowledge the possibility of good news. My Carey side resents the downer message of Satan’s power.
But rest . . . that is exactly what I wish at this time of year. Garland would numb my pain until later, Carey pretends it is not there, the carols confront it and tell me to rejoice despite it with other people in Jesus.
Yes. I can long for that kind of merriment.
God rest us, merry readers. God rest us every one.