Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Muddling Through Somehow

As I was listening to my Christmas playlist in the car for maybe the sixth or seventh time this season, it struck me that I have the “wrong” version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I have the movie version, which is slightly different than the one overheard in shopping centers this time of year. 

The song comes from the 1944 Meet Me in St. Louis, which follows a family moving from St. Louis to New York around the time of the 1904 World’s Fair. It covers Christmas time, and has the song, but I would hardly call it a Christmas movie. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” sung by Judy Garland’s character to her little sister played by Margaret O’Brien, is an attempt to comfort the sisters through the difficult transition with a promise that things will eventually get better.

The tune caught on as a Christmas song, but apparently it seemed too morose, so a slight change was made. The line “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” became “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” And (surprise) I like the original better, and I’m glad it’s the version playing in my car for the next few weeks. The original line acknowledges that the present isn’t great, that suffering exists, but that you make the best of what you have and hope for a better future. Isn’t that Advent, doing our best until Christ comes?

In the West, the penitential aspect of Advent is greatly reduced compared to Lent. I’m never sure how to balance the penitential preparation with the joyous expectation. I just muddle through until Christmas. Looking at the larger picture—the violence, abuse, and degradation of people for money and power throughout the world—finding a way to muddle through isn’t always easy. But when the only other option is despair, muddling through is an act of hope, an act that says this situation is temporary, and tomorrow will be clearer and brighter and worth waiting for. It’s possibly the most Christmasy message in that Christmas song.


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