Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Merry Little Christmas NOW

One of my favorite Christmas memories growing up is of my grandparents and aunt coming to visit every year from Wisconsin. When they arrived it was like Santa arrived. There were smiles and laughter and lots and lots of presents to unload from the car.

Every year, while they were with us, my grandfather would take a spontaneous moment to sing some songs: usually in German. The sounds of my grandfather singing "O Tannenbaum" still ring in my ear at Christmas, even though hes been gone for 16 years. I miss those times.

I'm not the only one, I'm sure, who gets all nostalgic at Christmas time. It's almost a requirement for the season. It's why the radio is filled with holiday songs from generations past. Do people know that Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole sang more than Christmas songs? Would they be surprised to hear their songs still being played religiously over the radio in 2008? They are the soundtrack of the season... every year... year after year.

As timeless as Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra may seem to be, however, the story of Jesus' birth from Luke even predates them. Jesus is born in Bethlehem. Angels proclaim the good news to shepherds. Heavenly Host sing: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" The promised Messiah has been born. God is acting to unfold his Kingdom and change the world forever. Hallelujah! Yes this is reason to celebrate.

But many find it difficult to celebrate the birth of Christ this year. Many have lost their jobs and homes. Our nation faces a future of possible economic disaster. Christmas just isn't the way it used to be. People miss their lost loved ones. They mourn the simple joys of the past and feel over scheduled and overwhelmed trying to direct a Christmas extravaganza for their families that is destined to flop.

One of the secular songs of our Christmas sound track really spoke to me this month. It's message touched my heart. We know the Frank Sinatra version best, but it was Judy Garland who first sang the song in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis. The song is "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." Sinatra had the lyrics changed to cheer it up a bit when he sang the version that gets played over and over, but Hugh Martins' lyrics sung by Garland are truer to the spirit of our times.

In the movie Garland's character sings the song to her seven-year-old sister. They are both sad because they might be leaving their home to move away from their friends right before Christmas. Garland encourages her to have a merry little Christmas because next year all their troubles will be out of sight. The last lines are the most moving: "Someday soon we all will be together/if the fates allow. Until then we'll just have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a merry little Christmas now."

While not intended these words had an even greater meaning for those who had loved ones serving in the military in 1944. Judy Garland brought American troops to tears singing this song. They didn't know what tomorrow would bring. They hoped next year the war would would be over... but what if it wasn't? What if there is no tomorrow for me? I guess we better muddle through... somehow. Let us have a merry little Christmas now.

After all... it is the birth of Christ that brings us hope in the face of uncertain times. Our future with the Lord is assured. The Messiah has come to bring salvation to all people. He is the Prince of Peace. War will cease and peace will reign. This is the gift of Jesus for the world.

The gift of Jesus for you is faith. You can stand up to your fears for you are empowered by Christ. You can be strong... because Jesus walks with you. You can muddle through with a smile on our face and warmth in your heart. Oh yes indeed... we can... and we will... have a merry little Christmas Now!

Glory to God in highest! Peace on Earth! Good will to all!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Before Israel had kings in the Old Testament they were a collection of tribes who would call a "judge" to lead them all only in times of crisis. Over time, however, Israel saw how many of their neighbors had kings and how successful their neighbors were. It seemed any successful "modern" nation would certainly be led by a king. So Israel demanded a king. Elders approached the prophet Samuel with their demands. Samuel warned them of the dangers of having a human king, but they did not change their tune: God did "bless" Israel with a king. This was Samuel's warning:

"This is the way the kind of king you're talking about operates. He'll take your sons and make soldiers of them - chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He'll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He'll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He'll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He'll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he'll take for his own use. He'll lay a tax on your flocks and you'll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don't expect God to answer (1 Samuel 8:11-18, The Message translation)."

The people still wanted a king, even after Samuel's warning. It's a good thing we don't have any kings in the United States or the State of Illinois.

Praise be to Christ: our Lord and King.