Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;[a] lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b] lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Sermon Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Good morning. I was in Shop Rite the other day and the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” began to play on the sound system in the store. It stopped me dead in my tracks. It always does. There’s a mournful quality to the song, which I never heard as a young person. I was probably about 30, or so, when I first noticed how sad this song can be.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was originally written for the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis. It was released in 1944 and very quickly became a favorite among U.S. servicemen who were serving in Europe and the Pacific, separated from loved ones, not knowing if they would ever make it home or see those loved ones ever again. No doubt, they identified with the longing and sadness that’s expressed in the song.

Even though I’m an only child, I grew up as part of a big extended family. Both of my grandmothers played a huge role in my life. Christmas always included at least one grandmother, and often both. There were lots of great aunts and uncles to visit, there was always church on Christmas Eve, and, when I was little, there was always that big, huge production of unwrapping gifts on Christmas Day.

My parents separated after thirty-four years of marriage. It was probably that same year that I first noticed the mournful quality of the song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I was walking through a shopping mall when I heard the lines, “Through the years we all will be together / If the fates allow,” and I got more than a little choked up.

I thought of loved ones who had passed away. I thought of my elderly grandmothers, who probably weren’t going to be around much longer. I was reminded of the Christmases when we had all been together. I knew there wouldn’t be many more of those. So yeah, I got more than a little bit choked up as I realized that those lovely Christmases from my childhood were gone.

The song expresses a wish for joy and happiness; at the same time, it acknowledges that something has been lost. Separation, loss, and disconnection are major themes in our reading from Isaiah. As I mentioned last Sunday, the Book of Isaiah was likely composed by at least three different authors, over a span of a couple hundred years. Our reading today comes from the middle section of Isaiah, which was written during the period known as the Babylonian Captivity, or exile.

That period of exile lasted for some 60-80 years. During that time, members of the religious and political leadership of the Kingdom of Judah were taken from Jerusalem as prisoners. The deportations took place in three waves, over a span of about 15-20 years. Each time, they watched their own armies get defeated by the Babylonians. In the final wave of deportations, Jerusalem was sacked. The people of Judah saw the destruction of Solomon’s temple.

The people of Judah believed that God dwelled among them, that God was enthroned in Solomon’s temple—it was the seat of the Jewish religion. The temple was the only proper place to make sacrifices to God. It was the center of Jewish religious life.