Merry Little Christmas

My cousin brought something to my attention recently. The song we have all heard a thousand times, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” while still full of longing and melancholy, was originally much darker. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for “Meet Me in St. Louis,” Judy Garland thought the original lyrics were too depressing, so they pressured Martin to change them.

In the movie, Esther (Judy Garland) sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie. The family has learned that they are moving to New York after Christmas which has upset everyone’s plans, hopes, and dreams. I won’t spoil the ending in case you haven’t seen it, but it made me think.

Mostly, people don’t really like change unless we believe we chose it. When we are happy with the way things are, we resist change. Yet, when we want something to be different, we can’t wait for change. What we fail to realize is that we are in a constant state of flux, constantly changing, continuously becoming.

The song presents a reasonable approach to the inevitable change we all experience over and over. It’s fine to have nostalgia for past times—”happy golden days of yore”—as long as we maintain faith in the future—”From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.”

It is interesting that the amount of pain we are in (physical, mental, or emotional) is proportionally related to our willingness to change. Ask any recovering addict. They only became willing and able to change when the pain of the way things were became larger than the inertia holding them there. Often, we think that the change needed is in someone or something else.

Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” As leaders, we cannot even begin to change the world (or our own community) if we will not change ourselves. In essence, becoming the change they want to see in others. The willingness and ability of our organization to change will be proportional to our own personal willingness.

Christmas is about change. People had been waiting a long time for change. They believed there was a future coming that would whisk away their troubles and lead to prosperity and autonomy (removing their pain). There were some people who were satisfied with the way things were (they had the power) and did not want that change to come.

One night, in the town of Bethlehem, the most significant agent of change the world would ever know was born. The second most significant thing about Jesus, after his sacrifice to offer us a new life, was his leadership. More than anyone before or after him, he lived what he said. He taught, spent time with, respected, loved, and did life with the people he was serving.

Change requires humility which is always difficult for leaders. We can easily begin to believe our own press and start to feel we are “all that.” If anyone could have claimed the right to be elevated, it was Jesus. Yet, he demonstrated the most practical form of humility. He loved people, even the ones who were the most difficult to love, enough to sacrifice himself for us. This Christmas, it is my prayer that you have met the Jesus I have met. It is my hope that as you enjoy this season, you will also consider how you could change, and by doing so, how you could lead your community to change. I want our community to be known for how we value and care for our people. Giving those we serve the gift of a leader who is humble enough to change would indeed be a merry little Christmas and the Bison Way.