In the wonderful holiday cartoon special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Charlie Brown sets out on a frequently disappointing quest to understand the meaning of Christmas. It appears that everyone else is finding fulfillment in their Christmas activities, but for Charlie – there is only emptiness. He looks into his empty mailbox, totally bereft of Christmas Cards and packages, and laments how this time of year only brings into sharper focus the reality that no one really likes him. Walking through his backyard, he stumbles upon Snoopy – who is feverishly nailing Christmas lights to his doghouse in the hopes that he may be awarded a large cash prize for his efforts in the Christmas Display contest. To this humorous spectacle, Charlie groans, “even my own dog has gone commercial.” He seeks the “psychiatric” counsel of Lucy, who charges him a nickel – and then suggests that he direct their Christmas play. Before leaving for the Christmas play, Charlie writes a letter to Santa Clause, as it is dictated to him by his sister, Sally. When Sally indicates that Santa may simply give her money – perhaps, “tens and twenties” – Charlie throws the pad and pencil into the air with disgust, and cries, “even my little sister!”
Since Charlie Brown is not what we would call a “person of influence,” the other children in the school auditorium (including his sister and dog) do not pay any attention to his directing – and proceed to play music and dance all about the stage. Lucy sends Charlie Brown out to get a Christmas tree, which she suggests will help get everyone in the Christmas spirit. She instructs him to “get the biggest aluminum Christmas tree you can find – maybe painted pink!” As you probably remember, Charlie and Linus return with a pathetic little tree that drops needles the whole way from the Christmas tree lot to the schoolhouse. Needless to say, the response from the group is not overwhelmingly positive. Feeling rejected again, and confused, Charlie Brown asks loudly to no one in particular, “isn’t there anybody who can tell me what Christmas is all about?!?” Out of the silence, Linus steps quietly forward and says, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” After calling for the stage crew to turn down the lights, Linus begins to quote from the gospel of Saint Luke, chapter 2.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-14, King James Version).
Linus then says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Taking this in, Charlie Brown leaves the auditorium with the little tree. He takes the little tree home, and decorates it with lights from Snoopy’s doghouse. You may remember that this causes it to droop, and he believes that he has killed it. In deep despair, with his head hanging low, he goes into the house. The other children come along, they right the tree, and they all sing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”
Since that Thursday, December 9, 1965, when this program first aired on black and white televisions across America, our society has seen many cultural changes. I am not sure that the commercialization of Christmas which Charles Schulz drew our attention to in this wonderful Christmas classic can even begin to be combated – and I do not believe that this is really our calling as Christians living in today’s world. What I am trying to say is this: ”do not lament about the retina-piercing lights on your neighbor’s house which daily threaten to halt the earth in its rotation around the sun, do not be dismayed by the ‘Christmas stuff’ advertisements that you have been inundated with since the fourth of July, do not lose heart over goofy euphemisms like ‘sparkle season,’ do not feel pressured to combat the yuletide carols and log (few people today pay any attention to these pagan symbols, anyway) – and come to the manger where God Who loves you took up our frail humanity in the birth of Jesus. As the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to a child that had been conceived in her yet-untouched womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, she gave birth to the Savior of the whole world.
I really don’t care what my neighbors and friends buy, decorate, or wrap in bacon or tinsel this Christmas – I want for them to hear that they have a Savior who is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is about. Search the retail shops, the Christmas parties, and the scores of people who annually double the weight of their homes with electric lights and inflatable lawn figures – and you will find people searching for a deeper sense of meaning, happiness, and contentment in their lives. Most people do not announce publicly that they are depressed by the hopelessness and loss in their lives, but thousands of people every day in this – the wealthiest nation in the world – plod along in quiet resignation and despair. What if someone they knew told them about God’s love for them – as shown in Jesus, whom Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger? What if someone in their life took the time to explain to them that this world and the things in it are only temporary, but that there is an eternal life of peace and joy that awaits those who trust in this child lain in a manger so long ago? What if someone in their life actually risked social awkwardness in order to tell them about their Savior?
May Jesus’ Church be renewed in her urgency to share the message of the Savior with a world that is dying in their sins. When the limitations of this world’s splendors and self-help psychology were exposed in Charlie’s despair, his friend Linus shared with him the eternal Word of God which gives hope and does not disappoint. Your neighbor may have lights and holiday cheer (whatever that means), but do they have saving faith in the Savior? Go, and find out.
In Christ Jesus,