We'll have to muddle through somehow
by David Tremaine on December 08, 2020
On Sunday night, as Mary Lynn, George, and I sat down for dinner, I opened our Illustrated Ministry Advent Devotional for Families to the reflection questions for week 2, “To Bring Peace.” The second of the three questions asked, “What is your favorite Christmas song as you prepare for celebrating Jesus’ birth? Take turns sharing and, if you have time, sing each song together.”
The first song that came to mind was “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” originally sung by Judy Garland in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. As I thought about the song, and as I began to sing it out loud, I realized that it is my favorite song in preparation for Christmas because it is a blend of joyful expectation, hopeful uncertainty, and the painful longing to be with the ones we love. The final verse of the song encompasses all these themes so well:
“Someday soon we all will be together,
if the fates allow.
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
In this moment, in this Advent, preparing for this Christmas, I do not know if there is a better description of how I am feeling. So much is left to fate, so much is out of my hands. There are so many people I want to be with that I cannot be, because of distance, or precaution, or death. So many words to describe what this season of life feels like, but none better than the phrase “muddling through somehow.” It has been weeks, months, almost a year of muddling. How much more muddling must I do?
The third and final reflection question then asks, “Is there a part of your favorite song that reminds you of the peace God brings?” I think about the long tradition of muddling in which I stand: the Israelites muddling through the wilderness for 40 years, the years of muddling in Babylon, hoping against hope to return to Jerusalem, the way Mary must have felt like she was muddling through an arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem at the end of her pregnancy.
It is hard for me to feel peaceful in this moment in my life and the life of the world. But remembering those great muddlers that have come before me helps me reframe my expectation of peace. For all those people, in all their turmoil, peace did not grow out of certainty or stability in their circumstances. Instead, the peace they found was grounded in the fact that in those challenging circumstances God was present with them, leading them, longing with them, dwelling in them.
In this way, the peace in the song is in all that longing, and pain, and muddling. Somehow my peace grows not from a promise that it will all be better soon, that “next year all our troubles will be out of sight,” but from my inextricable link with those who have muddled before me, with God’s help. It does not make everything better, it does not make the longing go away, or the pain subside. Instead, the longing, the pain, and the uncertainty connect me to that great cloud of witnesses, to all those throughout time and all over the world that have felt and are feeling the same way. We are in the muddling together, and God dwells there with us, Emmanuel.