Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino
Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.
Special Edition – But Christmas Is A-Coming!
All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.Ecclesiastes 9:2 (KJV)
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.Ecclesiastes 9:11 (KJV)
Because this is such a depressing time (especially due to the recent pandemic) I chose these depressing two verses from Ecclesiastes to remind you that – Christmas is a-coming!
Department stores are decked out for Christmas as holiday music plays in the malls. Hallmark’s TV channel is already running Christmas movies 24/7, and don’t look now, but Christmas is only 19 days or so away as of the posting of this article!
You’ve probably heard me talk about how much I love old war movies – but I enjoy old Christmas movies even more.
In fact, my all-time favorite movie is, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As a kid, seeing that movie when it first came out in 1946, convinced me more of God’s providence and predestination than any sermon I heard.
It’s a great story of a community coming together to solve one man’s huge financial problem. Although I’ve seen the movie hundreds of times I can’t help shedding a tear each time I see it. In fact I can’t get by its commercial without choking up.
So my article today is about a Christmas movie, — but NOT that one.
In November 1944 a new musical opened in a New York movie theater (I believe it was in the old Astor theater). The movie is called, “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
It starred, among others, the legendary Judy Garland; it was a smash hit and is among the Library of Congress’ list of 100 movies that have become classics. You’re bound to find it showing on TV this Christmas season as well.
The plot is simple: three daughters of marriageable age finally get their men. But the uplifting songs and the fresh hope displayed was just what America needed back in November 1944.“There is not always a positive correlation between efforts and results.”
At that time there were costly battles across the Atlantic and the Pacific resulting in heartache, worry and loss here on the home-front when “Meet Me in St. Louis” opened on Broadway.
People came night after night to be transported back to a simpler time at the turn of the century. No doubt the weight of their troubles were lifted for a couple of hours as they watched the film.
The movie contains many memorable tunes like “The Trolley Song.” But the one song that has lasted for decades, — the one song that we are bound to hear, if not sing every Christmas season, – is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Its words are:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.
From now on,
Our troubles will be out of sight.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay.
From now on, our troubles will be far away.
Here we are in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us,
Gather near to us once more.
Through the years we will all be together,
If the fates allow,
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
You know this is the only song I know that talks about Christmas and fate. Certainly no Christmas carol sings about Christmas and fate.
And many today in good faith will make a theological correction and change that one line, “If the fates allow” to “If the Lord allows.”
As to changing the line from “If the Lord allows” to “If the fates allow,” I believe those were the right words to speak to the hearts of those living through the war years, who night after night came to be whisked away by the theater magic of “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Also, I’m not one who advocates changing any authors words.
Only five months earlier than the date this movie opened on Broadway, the D-Day landings had occurred, which was in June 1944.
Our allied forces were making some progress against the Nazis – but nevertheless the outcome was still uncertain. Germany had a robust army and was desperate to stop the allies in their push toward Berlin.
The Battle of the Bulge soon would be fought with tremendous loss to our armed forces, all of which would occur less than one month after Judy Garland’s “Meet Me in St. Louis” opened.
How that phrase, if the fates allow resonated with Americans back in 1944. And how it even resonates with us today.
As the writer of Ecclesiastes states “It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, [to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice…Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance (or fate) happen to them all.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes is not the most pleasant to read, but he surely is honest!
You and I both know that there is not always a positive correlation between efforts and results. Perhaps you know a friend or loved one suffering from a dreaded disease. Perhaps you have recently lost out on a promotion or even worse lost a job. Perhaps you have a troubled child or grandchild.
And in all of these scenarios you can think of nothing that may have caused them. You thought you were playing by the rules but fate had other plans.
So did Judy Garland have it right when she sang, “Through the years we will all be together, if the fates allow?”
Well, living under fate does two things to us. First, it makes us live under the tyranny of the “now.”
Recall the final words of the song, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas NOW.” Here we are together NOW, but who can say we will be in the future? Only if the fates allow?“Some time ago you could find examples of people who lived by conviction instead of trying to avoid conviction.”
So if everything is up for grabs shouldn’t we grab everything we can right now? Shouldn’t we live it up NOW, for tomorrow we die?
Second, living our life by fate fuels up this kind of thinking. Why not cheat, lie, and steal?
Some time ago you could find examples of people who lived by conviction instead of trying to avoid conviction. Just say no has been replaced by saying nothing.
The philosophy of today is that of Sgt. Shultz of “Stalag 13” — “I see nothing, nothing.”
That’s how most of society lives their life today, isn’t it? The big “IF the fates allow.”
But folks, Christmas IS God’s confrontation with uncontrolled fate. Christmas means liberation from such a worldview.
Christmas means God has something better in store for you and for me. Christmas means God has a better attitude to give you than being a slave to the tyranny of the fate of an uncertain now.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians “When the time (or God’s fate) had fully come . . . God sent His Son, born of a woman, born so that we might receive adoption as God’s children.”(Gal. 4:4-5)
Christmas tells us that it is not a chance fate but “God’s fate” that calls the shots.
This is what Christmas is all about. Proverbs 16:33 tells us that man may roll the dice, but God determines the outcome.“Christmas means God has a better attitude to give you than being a slave to the tyranny of the fate of an uncertain now.”
There is another New York Christmas show, that, although the scenes and choreography change every year, it always includes one story line that I pray will never be changed.
The Annual Christmas show at Radio City evolves to the point where a child is looking for the perfect gift.
Facing failure after failure in finding that perfect gift, Santa appears with the most sage advice ever uttered on the Radio City stage, or for that matter on any Broadway stage.
If you’ve seen the show, do you remember what Santa said? All of the worlds greatest theologians could not have said it better in so few words. Do you remember what Santa said?
Santa said, “You don’t find the perfect gift; the Perfect Gift finds you.” WOW!
Every time I hear that I shout “yes” and jump out of my seat. Unfortunately when I do that, the people around me think I’m strange — and the Truth of Santa’s words goes over their heads, – even though the very next scene is a live Nativity.
There’s another movie that I’d like to point out to you.
On October 7, 1977 the first of the “Oh, God” movies was released. It’s a funny story about a grocery clerk Jerry, played by John Denver, who is personally visited by God, played by George Burns.
God it seems has selected this clerk to be His messenger to the modern world, sort of a contemporary Moses. But after choosing Jerry for this mission, God disappears.
The theology throughout the movie is mostly terrible — until near the end; when the religious leaders file a law suit against Jerry for publicly stating that God appeared to him.
Jerry realizes an appearance by God in the court room would guarantee a defense verdict for him.“Now isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas…Not that we find Christ, but that Christ, the Perfect Gift, by God’s design, or by “God’s fate” if you will, has found us.”
So Jerry goes on a long search to find God again. First he runs into a highly ornate church, telling the priest he needs to find God. But Jerry only receives some convoluted advice.
Next he tells a street corner evangelist he needs to find God, and all he receives is some talk that borders on Pentecostal preaching.
Finally, Jerry runs into a synagogue and asks that same question, “Where can I find God?”
It is at this point where the theology in this movie is solid. The Rabbi replies to him, “Find Got? You don’t find Got, Got finds you!”
Now isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas? Not that we find Christ, but that Christ, the Perfect Gift, by God’s design, or by “God’s fate” if you will, has found us.
So have yourself a Merry Little Christmas NOW, . . . “for behold all things have become new. If any is in Christ, you are a new creature. Old things have passed away.”(2 Cor. 5:17)
All things, including fate, is really God’s fate.
And that friends is Christmas; God’s Perfect Gift to us. We have but to cast ourselves upon Him and abandon all trust in ourselves — in our supposed merits or goodness.
Because of Christmas we can be secure in “God’s fate” — in His control of all things and in His divine providence. For it is only in Him that we live, and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)
So rest in “God’s fate,” the “fate” that He has found you – rejoice in the fact that He has found you – and have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” NOW.
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