A Merry Little Christmas?

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I hope your Christmas Day 2020 was one that gave you some reason to smile, some blessing to count, or some love to give to someone else. We usually go out of town during Christmas but not this year. The family we usually travel to see are here with us. And aside from the hazards of COVID-19, our home just last week received the final repairs from damage from Hurricane Laura (now the yard is another story, but the house has finally been repaired). As you can guess, home repairs are costly, so we stayed home, which was fine.

Christmas songs have a way of touching our hearts in special ways. While there are lots of funny lists of the worst Christmas songs (I know what my vote is!), there are so many more that express our hearts desire in the most anticipated holiday of the year. Many artists have recorded the song Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. My personal opinion is that no one can touch Judy Garland’s performance in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis (link). It’s a wistful song that attempts to choose to have a merry Christmas when things aren’t so merry. This year I noticed some phrases in that song that particularly resonated with this Christmas.

Next year all our troubles will be out of sight

With the advent of vaccines for coronavirus, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. We are looking at months before it has been distributed to a wide population. There seem to be many unknowns. Do we have hope that next Christmas all of this that we have been dealing with will be out of sight? Later in the song the writers suggest that, “Next year all our troubles will be miles away.” Our children and grandchildren will be hearing about this experience for the rest of their lives. We will re-live the moments when we couldn’t be together, when sick family members were in hospitals alone, and when the empty chairs at the table would remind us that we are now missing loved ones. It is easy to settle into a maudlin perspective that sees no hope. Christ, however, is our greatest hope. Whether it is next year when our troubles will be miles away or some other point in time, we know that Jesus will make all things right in His time. The Christian perspective is never without hope.

Faithful friends who were near to us


Someday soon we all will be together” – at least that is our hope. Friends and family together during the holidays is what our hearts long for. That togetherness is the substance of the memories of Christmas past. Many families did gather today, in spite of warnings about the danger of households mixing. Everyone has to find their own path through this pandemic, so I do not judge you. But I do know that a lot of people chose not to gather in larger crowds. What many of us missed for most of this year is the freedom to spend time with friends without considering the presence of an invisible contagious virus. Maybe that day will some again. For Christians, there is hope of a grand reunion where no more tears or sickness will be a part of our experience. I know there are loved ones I long to see. As the death rates have climbed in our country (and in our world), many are missing their loved ones. I hope the message of eternal life promised by the blood of Christ will call to many people to follow Jesus.

Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow

This line doesn’t make into all versions of the song, but it is in Garland’s version. And it connects with me. We are going to have to muddle through somehow. To me that means that we will do our best. It may not be the perfect holiday celebration, but we will express love to one another, gather as safely as we can, call and talk to our loved ones, and remember the reason why we are having a holiday. As we move into 2021, I’m sure we will be muddling through in many ways but we will be moving forward. We never give up. Not when it hurts, not when we are tempted, not when we are confused, not when we are lonely – our Christian commitment will not let us give up. Jesus experienced the struggles we face. He was without sin, but He has understanding of the effects of these challenges on our hearts.

As we have made our way through Luke’s account of the birth of Christ at our church, I am struck by the nobodies. Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the Shepherds, Anna, Simeon … none of them are worthy to have something to do with the birth of the King of Kings, but God chose them. All of them were in some way or another experiencing isolation, troubles, uncertainty. The Hope of the World came to the nobodies – and that gives me such gratitude. As a nobody, I know now that God notices.

Hey friend, whatever you’re going through … however long the journey … when the tears fall and you’re just trying to have a merry little Christmas, remember that Out Here Hope Remains. In case you’re wondering, the only thing that really matters about Christmas is that you know that God thinks you are worth it. That’s the main message of the manger. You are deeply loved. Yes you.

Thanks for reading.

_____

The Story Behind Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

IMDb Page for Meet Me In St. Louis

Holiday Depression and Stress

5 Verses on the Hope Found in Jesus Christ

Forsythe Church of Christ YouTube Page

How’s That Christmas Looking?

Photo by Oleg Zaicev from Pexels

Christmas is such a mixed bag for so many people most any year. Everyone deals with the varying religious traditions, family rituals, and the overblown commercialization of gift giving. Add to that the loneliness many feel during the holidays as well as the emotional connections to past experiences that can be difficult. But we are used to all of that, aren’t we? We deal with this every year. This Christmas feels different, just like this year has felt different.

How many people are celebrating Christmas alone this year, due to fears of spreading coronavirus? Those who made the transition this year from independent living to nursing home or assisted living structures are unable to have family or friends visit with them. Even if you live at home, to have multiple families join you for extended periods of time in closed-in places is risky at best. Some people who are struggling with health issues already cannot add COVID-19 to the list and survive.

How many people are facing a Christmas season for the first time without a loved one?

How many people are facing a Christmas season for the first time without a loved one? In our country we are over 300,000 deaths from the virus. That’s a lot of empty chairs at the Christmas tables across America. We can’t forget the many who lost their jobs or businesses during this time of restriction and recovery. Through no fault of their own, the financial damage is done.

In Louisiana, there are many people who are still recovering from two profound hurricanes that did a tremendous amount of damage. Some are still displaced and uncertain.

Mental Health Impact

This reminds me of what my friends Nick and Amber White at Firm Foundations Family Counseling (and many other therapists) say often: the mental health impact of this year may be greater than all of the other impacts. So, how’s that Christmas looking?

I think one of the things we need to avoid is glossing over the Christmas season, especially this year. This post is not meant to be depressing, it’s meant to acknowledge that Christmas is different this year. We can pretend it’s not, but ultimately that will work against our spirits. There are enough Christmas movies, gifts, foods, and decorations to distract us for a bit. Maybe that’s ok for a while, but I’d recommend that we not ignore the struggles.

But that’s not to say that there’s no joy to be found in Christmas.

There is joy – that is a constant in our lives. I think it’s just that this year the joy will coexist with the sting of 2020. When some of those discordant emotions and feelings come your way during this season of lights and gifts, I will simply encourage you to think about the first Christmas. That is what all of this activity is about, after all. I think we can find some solidarity with the uncertainty of Joseph, the discomfort of Mary, the disconnectedness of having to travel for a census, the despair of finding no place to lie down when a baby is coming, the humility of being in the barn, and yet…

The joy of the angels, the determination of the magi, the curiosity of the shepherds, and the mother who kept all these things in her heart. It wasn’t as idyllic as our imaginings of the nativity scene may be, but it was as amazing an account as one could experience.

The news that set the world free arrived in a setting of uncertainty, discomfort, questions, pain, detachment, isolation … and joy.

How’s that Christmas looking? Well, Mary and Joseph and Jesus and Me and You are in this together. We recognize the difficulty and we know that joy exists beyond the hurt. In the mean time we will smile when we see God planting unexpected blessings throughout our experience. He is near. He is with us. Immanuel. Amen.

Lord Jesus,
Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

—Henri J.M. Nouwen

Resources For Further Reading

Grief in December 2020 by Russell Siler Jones

National Suicide Prevent Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Taking Care of Your Mental Health During Pandemic – Robert Priedt

Faith: Room to Grow Through a Challenging Christmas Season – Bruce Hoppe

104 Helpful Tips for Managing Grief and Loss During the Holidays – Devon Jorge

Bethlehem – John Gipson

Articles From My Files

This article From My Files is from The Keynoter church bulletin from Little Rock, October 12, 1995. The prolific John Gipson is the author. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. – JED

Bethlehem, a town located on the edge of the desert of Judah, just five miles south of the city of Jerusalem. It is situated on a rocky spur of the mountains of Judah just off the main road to Hebron and Egypt.

Here Rachel was buried; here Ruth and Boaz came to love one another and were married; here David went about feeding his father’s sheep, and was anointed by Samuel to be king.

The prophet of old, Micah, indicates future fame for this town when he says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

And Micah was right! Matthew tells us that Jesus was born “in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king” (Matthew 2:1). When wise men from the East came to worship the Christ, Herod was troubled. He assembled all the chief priests and scribes and inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet” (Matthew 2:5).

Phillips Brooks, who died over 100 years ago, attended Harvard and felt the influence of such great teachers as James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1867, he wrote one of his famous songs, “O Little Town of Bethlehem:

O little town of Bethlehem! How still we see thee lie; Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by; Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight.

I Am Thankful – Charles Box

This post ‘From My Files’ is by Charles Box, who was the longtime minister for the Walnut Street Church of Christ in Greenville, Alabama. Many of his articles can still be found there. In his usual style, his articles are filled with Scriptures. This one was in my ‘Thanksgiving’ file, appropriately enough, and is entitled ‘I Am Thankful’.

Every day brings us more blessings and more reasons to give thanks. “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud” (Psalm 55:17). Out of God’s bountiful storehouse comes the daily blessings without number. Let us thank God “fro whom all blessings flow.” “Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).

I AM THANKFUL THAT GOD GAVE ME LIFE. “For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring'” (Acts 17:28).

I AM THANKFUL THAT JESUS DIED FOR MY SINS. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I AM THANKFUL FOR THE BIBLE. “An you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

I AM THANKFUL FOR THE CHURCH. “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23).

I AM THANKFUL FOR MY FAMILY. Our mate and children are truly a gift from God. Much of the happiness of life comes from our family. (Psalm 127:3; Ephesians 6:1-4; Proverbs 18:22)

I AM THANKFUL THAT I HAVE A MEDIATOR. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

I AM THANKFUL THAT JESUS UNDERSTANDS WHAT IT IS TO BE TEMPTED. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

There is no sin uglier than that of ingratitude. The story of the ten lepers illustrates how ungrateful people can be (Luke 17:11-19). The Lord gave them what they most needed and only one was thankful. The bible says, “Be ye thankful” and all of us have so many reasons to obey these words!

Pumpkin Pie

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Aside from the tasty joy that is pumpkin pie, it is a reminder to me of love and gratitude during the Thanksgiving season. Mostly, because I couldn’t eat Pecan Pie (not pee-can, puh-cahn please), which is much to be preferred.

It was all because of those years of having metal bands wrapped around my teeth and the accompanying rules of braces. Popcorn? No. Gum? No. Pecans? No. Not even in pie? No. But what about Thanksgiving? No. Pumpkin? Sure.

So at our family Thanksgiving there was both pumpkin and pecan pie. I’m not sure many partook of the pecan alternative – although I hasten to say that my mother made a great pumpkin pie. But I did. I had to, if I wanted pie. And I always wanted pie. Still do.

Pumpkin pie became a symbol of Thanksgiving, but also a symbol of love. I’m fairly convinced that had I not been wearing braces all those years (and been a rule-keeper when it came to the food laws of my Orthodontist) there may not have been pumpkin pie on the dessert table. But there it was – an act of love, accommodation, inclusion. It was a catalyst to giving thanks.

The word ‘pumpkin‘ is not in the Bible. Not even in The Message. But a pumpkin is a gourd, and the word ‘gourd’ is mentioned in the Bible four times. In three of those passages the gourds are carved decorations. The other time is in 2 Kings 4 when a stew was made that included some gourds gathered from a field – and it says specifically the servant who gathered them did not know what they were. Turns out they were poisonous and Elijah had to save the day.

Well, none of those Bible verses really makes me think of the warmth, acceptance, and family gratitude that comes to mind when I consider the presence of pumpkin pie in the Thanksgiving celebrations of my childhood. But some verses do make me think of the kind of love that I experienced, and that I hope this holiday brings to your table:

…By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

– John 13:35

…serve one another humbly in love.

– Galatians 5:13

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

– Romans 12:10

“One person’s faith allows them to eat anything…”

-Romans 14:2

That last one might be the closest Bible verse about pumpkin pie. I wouldn’t be dogmatic about that though. I hope your Thanksgiving Day has some pumpkin pie – some symbol of acceptance, love, care, and service. These are the qualities that make Thanksgiving a family oriented holiday observance.