It has been 49 years since the first showing of “Charlie Brown’s Christmas.” Did any of you watch it a couple of weeks ago? Charlie Brown’s Christmas, along with Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas are the trinity of Christmas shows for me! Something is missing in my seasonal preparations if I fail to watch them. Before DVDs and being able to record shows….if I missed these three…well, it was traumatic!
I love Charlie Brown, the misfit loser, who intuitively recognizes that behind and beyond the glitter, the hype, and the materialism of Christmas, something else is going on.
He is sent out to buy a shiny aluminum Christmas tree. Charlie Brown buys a tiny, thin-on-the-needles real tree. When the gang sees what Charlie Brown brings they make fun of him. Dejected, he confesses to Linus: “Can someone tell me what Christmas is really about?”
Linus takes the stage and in that wonderful little lisping voice he begins to recite: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night…”
Something happens to Charlie Brown (and to me) listening to those particular words. A veil is lifted, and he sees in his little broken-down fir tree – the left-over tree, the puny and pathetic little Christmas tree, the last real tree on the lot – a sign of something deep, rich, full of wonder, full of hope.
Tonight – can someone tell us what Christmas is really about?
It is a question that lingers in the air – in this increasingly secular, individualistic, materialistic and fearful world we live in – as I, and maybe you too, like Charlie Brown, search for the holy.
Tonight we have read the passages that tell the story of Christmas starting with the words of Isaiah that inspired the early Christians who combed the Hebrew Bible looking for ways of describing what they had experienced in Jesus.
We have read the well-known words about the shepherds on the hillside, Mary and Joseph, the Magi – all of it coming together in the shadows of the oppressive Roman occupation. Those were not good days.
What is Christmas really about?
For Christians, Christmas is really about one thing: God becoming a baby.
It is a strange way to talk about God.
Joan Osborne sang a song a decade ago or so: What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us. Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.
Well, Christians believe that God was one of us, just a slob like one of us, just like that stranger on the bus trying to find his way home….
Let’s face it. It is an absurd, crazy,claim: that God become a baby and not a fix-everything-and-make-it-right-God, not a Santa Claus God, not a super-hero-power-on-steroids-God, not a stops-people-from-killing-each-other and doesn’t-allow-bad-things-to-happen-to-good-people God, or a God who cures cancer, or a God who gets me into the college of my choice, or makes me pass an exam that I didn’t study for.
And not a God who is a projection of our worst attributes; like anger or judgment.
Instead, God became a baby – a baby that needs to nurse, that soils her diaper, that has to learn to walk.
What good is a God like that for times like these?
I believe that many of us – because I feel this way sometimes – are like Charlie Brown looking at the world tonight, with what happened in Ferguson and Cleveland and New York, with ISIS, Ebola, global warming, partisanship, torture reports, homelessness and hunger, the growing disparity of the rich and the poor – feel the angst of our nation, the heaviness life. It is hard to breathe!
And yet, we still want to touch the holy. We are still looking for God.
I want so much for Christmas to be more than a kind of escape, a drug, a day or two to eat food and open gifts and watch LeBron in Miami. (Although I will do all of these things!)
What is Christmas really about?
As the poet Mary Oliver writes: “The Spirit likes to dress up like this: ten fingers, ten toes.”
If that is true about God and that is what Christmas is about – then maybe we are looking for God in the wrong places.
God is not out there. God is here – in the midst, in the mangers.
God becomes what you and I should become – more human and more humane.
God points to where we need to be involved. to a life in service to others.
God shows us the way. And invites us to follow. But it is up to you and me to show the God of Christmas we believe in: to incarnate, embody, become what you and I most deeply want to trust, that life is worth it and love wins.
Because just at that point, when you begin to lose a bit of hope in yourself and in others and in our world, there is the story of God being born. There is a twinkling star, there is this late service. We sing these hymns, we feel the bodies sitting next to us, we miss the bodies not sitting next to us, we see the wonder in the eyes of the children, and even the most crusty of us sense the anticipation of joy tomorrow… whatever…..
I just hope you find what you are looking for! I hope you get to the manger.
As Madeleine L’Engle wrote:
God did not wait till the world was ready.
Till…the nations were at peace.
God came when the heavens were unsteady,
And prisoners cried out for release.
God did not wait for the perfect time,
God came when the need was deep and great.
God dined with sinners in all their grime
turned water into wine, God did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy God came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
God came, and God’s light would not go out.
God came to a world which did not mesh,
To heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
The Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
To raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
This is what Christmas is all about. Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!