Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas sung the Judy Garland way is my favorite Christmas carol of all time. Watch her performance in my favorite Christmas movie, Meet Me in St Louis. She isn’t singing with a smile, she’s singing with a broken heart. Her lips tremble with the vibrato of her voice. You can just feel the pain she’s expressing through that song. There is hope, courage, and grief all wrapped up into fourteen lines.
I get it. I know what it’s like to be heartbroken at Christmas. To look around and see happy faces beaming with the Christmas Spirit and feel like you just don’t belong. I know what it’s like to wake up Christmas morning and want to pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep until the new year. I’ve stood in candlelit services and sung the carols with a lump in my throat and sob in my soul. I know.
For many amazing seasons, Christmas has been wonderful and full of anticipation and joy and wonder and excitement. My parents worked hard to create meaningful family traditions and fun memories. My childhood was full of warm, protected, cozy Christmas mornings. And then life happened. Infertility, loss, illness, job uncertainty, fractured relationships, broken hearts and broken dreams…
I hear voices sing about a weary world rejoicing and I wonder how? How did the whole world rejoice when they didn’t even know what happened in Bethlehem or what was coming in Jerusalem? I’m so grateful for the birth of Christ, but I can far more easily relate the Jesus of Good Friday than a serene mother holding a quiet baby.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the way things are supposed to be. We think Christmas is supposed to be magical, joy-filled, and a time of cozy contentment, rest, and peace. But what if you’re utterly heartbroken at Christmas? And all you can think is, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Maybe that’s what Christmas is all about after all. Nothing about the world was the way it was supposed to be. Heartbreak was reflected in the whole of humanity – hopes were destroyed by it. So, in the quiet of night a child was born to right all the wrongs and make things the way they are supposed to be.
But it was a long, hard walk from Bethlehem to Calvary to Resurrection. It wasn’t neat and tidy and full of blissful, cozy moments by the fireplace. It was raw and gritty and painful. Lives and souls were laid bare. Expectations went unmet and dreams died. It looked a lot like heartbreak.
Just like Israel didn’t recognize the Messiah when he came – born in a barn and humble in every way – maybe we don’t recognize him coming into our own lives. We look longingly to the mountain tops, the Norman Rockwell Christmas images, the “victories” … and miss that he’s arriving right here in the ugly shambles of our lives. He’s entered into the open wounds of our tattered stories. That’s where he can be found. Not in a bright and shining castle on a hill, but in the broken seasons of life we weren’t expecting.
Christmas is for us, too – the sad and lonely and scared ones. The weary ones who are struggling to grasp that thrill of hope – reaching for it, all the while knowing it just might be a long, hard journey to get there. Christmas is for the ones waiting for it to get better. And the comfort of Christmas is this: as I crawl toward hope, I know who crawls with me. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.