In 1944 Hugh Martin wrote a song for the MGM musical Meet me in St. Louis. And I’m sure the song is familiar to most of you. It’s called Have yourself a merry little Christmas. In the movie Judy Garland’s character sings that song to her little sister who’s upset about the prospect of moving to New York… hoping to cheer her up she sings, “Next year all our troubles will be miles away… until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow… so have yourself a merry little Christmas now…”
It’s interesting… the song Hugh Martin wrote actually ended up going through a number of revisions because apparently people found it too depressing when he initially wrote it. Judy Garland and later Frank Sinatra both convinced him to change some of the lyrics to make it a little more… well… merry. “We’ll have to muddle through somehow…” was changed to, “Hang a shining star upon the highest bow” for instance… Either way, it’s certainly a familiar and probably meaningful song to many people.
I do think though that Hugh Martin may have been on to something when he initially wrote a song that didn’t focus so much on present happiness but instead on the hope for a better future… after all I’m guessing many of you can think of someone who doesn’t have a lot of reason to be merry this Christmas… in fact maybe that someone is you… Let’s face it… when you lose a job, or lose a spouse, or lose a parent, or face sickness or surgery or the stress that comes from kin and career etc… it can be hard to feel very merry at Christmas.
Sometimes our present unhappiness… our current circumstances cause us to feel like we don’t know… we don’t know if we can “muddle through somehow”… we don’t know what the future holds… we don’t know if we’ll ever have a merry little Christmas ever again.
Today as we stand less than one week away from Christmas I’m not going to stand here and tell you that all your troubles will soon be miles away… or that next year they’ll be out of sight… I’m not even gonna tell you to, “Cheer up and have a merry little Christmas…” Instead as we take a look at God’s Word today I’m going to encourage you to find your joy not in your present circumstances but as Jesus’ mother Mary did – find your joy in God’s promises… promises made and promises kept… and in doing so I pray that you will all have yourselves a “Mary” little Christmas… one in which that same humble confidence of Mary in her God… is the very thing that brings you joy at Christmas and always.
Later on this week we’ll get to hear again that familiar Christmas account of angels and shepherds and a Savior lying in a manger… but today we hear what led up to that miraculous birth… and it started really with two miraculous conceptions… one in the womb of an old and barren woman named Elizabeth… and one in the womb of the virgin Mary, Elizabeth’s relative.
The two children these women would give birth to would change the world. Elizabeth’s son John would later become known as John the Baptist… the last great prophet whom God sent to prepare the way for the coming Messiah… and Mary’s son of course would be that Messiah… the long promised Savior – Jesus. The angel Gabriel had announced the birth of both of these children… and as soon as Mary heard what was going to happen to her she hurried from her home in the north of Israel down to the hill country of Judea in the south where Elizabeth lived. And as she called out her greeting to Elizabeth we hear the reaction of both Elizabeth and her unborn son:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished (Luke 1:41-45).
No sooner had Mary said hello before Elizabeth and her unborn son are both rejoicing. Mary was truly blessed among women… not because of who she was… but because of the child she was carrying… because he was the Lord himself… the Lord who had made the promise to send a Savior… and now fulfilled that promise as he took on human flesh.
This was not lost on Mary either. You notice in her response she gives all the glory and honor to God alone: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47). She acknowledges that it is God alone who has done great things for her… he is the reason why all generations will remember her… and it is his name alone that is holy.
Beyond acknowledging God’s grace to her in these words of praise, we also see her proclaiming the truth of God’s mercy which is for all who fear him… that is, all who trust his name… which is the very thing God had promised to the father of the Israelite people – Abraham… a promise of mercy from a holy God for sinful people in the form of a Savior… a Savior who would come from that line… a Savior who would fulfill God’s promise of mercy… a Savior who was now growing inside the womb of his mother Mary…
You see, for Mary, the coming birth of her Son… Christmas… was all about God keeping his promises. God had made promises to lift up the spiritually humble and hungry… he had made promises to be merciful and not treat his people as their sins deserved… And that was something that gave Mary great joy… because even though she would soon be looked on unfairly by many as an unfaithful bride… Mary knew that there were plenty of real examples of unfaithfulness in her life… plenty of reasons for God to look on her with wrath instead of mercy… This is why she was filled with joy in God her Savior… who had shown mercy to her sinful anscestors and was now showing that same mercy to her as he kept his Word in sending the Savior who would bear her sin and face her punishment… Jesus’ mother was filled with joy at the thought of his birth not because her present circumstances were so good… certainly not because she was so good… but because her faithful God was so good…
Maybe this Christmas for you things are not quite as “merry” as you’d like. If there are things weighing you down this Christmas please know that you’re not alone. There are many people here today who are hurting… who are struggling with poor health or poor finances… who are reeling from the fallout of a failed marriage or a broken family… you are not the only one who is struggling under the guilt and shame that comes from daily battles with temptation lost… and you are not the only one who sees little hope for joy this Christmas or even next Christmas for that matter.
But as you consider the things that burden your heart this week and rob you of joy… I pray that you’ll also consider the great things that God has done to unburden your heart forever… and give you a joy that cannot be shaken by the temporary things of this life because it is an eternal joy won by his Son through his life and death and resurrection. Like Mary you are blessed not because your health is good, or your reputation is great, or your family gets along… you are blessed why? Because you too believe that what the Lord has promised will truly be accomplished. You are blessed because God kept his promise and sent Jesus. You are blessed because Jesus promises to come again and take you to be with him forever where no sadness or sin can tarnish the joy that comes from being in his presence.
So this week I want you to all have yourselves a “Mary” little Christmas as you recall God’s promises… promises made and promises kept… and then like Mary you can lift up your head despite your pain, or fear, or frustration, or failure… you can lift up your head and proclaim the greatness of the Lord… you can rejoice in God who came to be your Savior… you can rejoice because you know that a “merry Christmas” comes not from your present circumstances… but from the certain expectation we have in the God who keeps his promises. Amen.