The Thoma family watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” not long ago. Jennifer bought the DVD. Although, she had trouble finding it. Considering the religious climate in America, I’m not surprised. The Christmas Gospel from Luke 2:8-14 is the cartoon’s essential point.
Asked by Lucy to direct the school’s Christmas play, Charlie Brown goes from scene to scene, becoming increasingly frustrated with the task. Along the way, he sets out to get a Christmas tree for the set. Anyone familiar with Charlie Brown will know how that goes. He gets a rather pathetic tree, one that bends all the way to the ground when a single bulb is hooked to its branches. As the children walk off stage laughing, he snaps, calling out with a shout, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Linus steps up to answer, his signature blanket in hand. “Sure, Charlie Brown,” he says, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”
Linus asks for the stage lights to be set and then begins, “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 Savior, 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.’”
As gently as Linus begins, he turns back to Charlie Brown. With the simplest of childlike innocence, he says so plainly, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Even though I’ve seen the cartoon countless times, I got a little choked up at that moment. Jen noticed it, but I explained it away. This Christmas special has been aired since 1965. It was a childhood staple for many of us. But now, while you can purchase any imaginable ungodliness, this short video is scarcely available. And why? Because of its message. Its words are, at best, considered quaintly obsolete and uninteresting and, at worst, downright hateful and offensive.
Neither is true. And yet, here we are.
Thinking about these things, the cartoon gave me something else to ponder. It was Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree that came to mind. In short, after Linus’ recitation, the rest of the children gather around Charlie Brown’s miserable tree to decorate it. When they’re done, it’s no longer pitiful but beautiful—the point: the heart of Christmas collided with the children. In turn, the children collided with their surroundings, making them beautiful.
Closer to home, as I do every year, I put up the family Christmas tree. I’ve been assembling the same six-foot tree since Jennifer and I married in 1997. The tree was a wedding gift from Jennifer’s brother. While putting up the tree, its branches looked noticeably thinner this year. With each attempt to fluff and fan them to life, I discovered more and more imitation pine needles sprinkling to the floor. I remember thinking a few years back about how the tree was becoming far too fragile with time. Still, I have not retired it. My reason is simple.
While piecing the little tree together each Christmas, I think, “This will be the last year.” But then the tree collides with the joyful reason for putting it up, and everything about it changes.
When strands of multicolored lights are woven into it, when decades of family ornaments begin filling its branches, when the familiar angel our four children take turns placing at its peak each year is found in its place, almost unexpectedly, the gravity of the tree’s nostalgia becomes cosmic. Suddenly, what was once so pathetically inferior to everything else around it has grown fifty feet tall, making all things within reach lesser by comparison.
Christmas is fantastical that way. Just ask a child. You’ll see.
When it comes to humanity’s collision with Christmas—namely, the Good News at its heart—God desires similar aftereffects (1 Timothy 2:4). He tells us through Saint Paul that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). No wonder the devil has worked feverishly to remove “A Charlie Brown Christmas” from the airwaves and internet shelves. By the incarnation and subsequent work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, what in Sin was destined for the trash heap might bump into its pricelessness to God. There might be an accidental interlude with the Good News—the message heralding the lengths Christ was willing to go to accomplish humanity’s deliverance. The devil doesn’t want anyone to hear this message. He knows its potential. He knows that a world steeped in hopelessness remains thinly frail against his crushing accusations. But a brush with Christmas might foster a sturdy certainty for eternal life and the muscle to resist him. Satan knows that the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel. As He does, what was woefully small in shame can be raised and made gleefully grand by the all-surpassing mercy of God’s immense love for the loveless.
The devil should be concerned about these things. A collision with Christmas—the happy tidings of the Son of God’s arrival—spells his end while announcing a sinner’s fresh beginning in Jesus. Knowing this, take a chance at steering your family and friends into Christmas’ oncoming joy. Invite them to worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Bring them to where the power of God unto salvation can and will redress their weary lives with the kind of hope that only Christ can give.
The Christmas Eve services here at Our Savior in Hartland are at 4:30 pm and 10:30 pm. (There will even be a baptism in the 4:30 pm service, which I’m particularly excited about.) The Christmas Day service is at 9:30 am. Near or far, you should make the trek. Come and collide with Christmas. Of course, Satan doesn’t want you to receive such an invitation. In fact, he is likely, right now, trying to convince you to involve yourself with other, more important things. Let that be a clue to the invitation’s worth.