Written by Paul Penner Thursday, 27 December 2007 06:13One of my all-time favorite holiday videos is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Within the larger plot, the story of the first Christmas comes alive with purity and simplicity as told by a little child.
Before that story is told, however, the Peanuts gang behaves like normal children. The focus is on the pageantry and the preparation for Christmas, of having fun and the giving and receiving of gifts.
The competitive nature of the children motivates each character to find his or her place in the social pecking order of the group. Lucy takes charge of the Christmas play and appoints Charlie Brown as director. Instead of being a place of honor and respect, Charlie Brown discovers his place in the pecking order is near the bottom.
As with past Christmases in the real world, the nativity story gives all of us another chance to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas. The story of the birth of the Christ child does not scream out and demand an audience. It is silent, subdued and—if we let it—hidden among the clutter of everyday life. The Savior of the world rests within the manger bed, watched over by a young, teenage mother and an inexperienced, yet determined and loyal husband.
Though the angels sang and celebrated this event with all the pageantry and reverence due the arrival of the greatest king the world has ever known, a small audience of shepherds and a couple hundred sheep does not seem appropriate.
From our perspective in the 21st century, the visual impact of that part of the story hasn’t changed much either. As Lucy put it, “Christmas is about Christmas trees, presents, ‘Ho, Ho, Ho,’ mistletoe and pretty girls.”
When the big day arrives, the nativity scene is a great story for the children and a good backdrop for the real drama of quality family time with gift giving, including making videos and pictures of children playing among the sheep and baby Jesus.
Though meaningful, somehow the family rituals, cider, hot cocoa and a host of friends celebrating the season with a wonderful meal does not adequately describe the true meaning of Christmas. We listen to “Away in the Manger” and “Silent Night.” We sing “Deck the Halls” and listen to a half dozen Christmas CDs purchased from the latest round of Christian or secular artists and relax in the ambience of the season, forgetting that the Christ Child and parents were about to become refugees, running for their lives from a murderous and brutal king.
In Charlie Brown’s Christmas story, Lucy and the gang—minus Linus and Charlie Brown, who wants to know more—do not understand the meaning of Christmas. They ridicule Charlie Brown for his inability to manage the Christmas play, even though their poor behavior was to blame. They laugh at him for choosing the worst Christmas tree ever. Even Snoopy joins in on the fun. “Rats! I can’t do anything right,” sighs a dejected Charlie Brown.
Near the story’s end, an uncertain Lucy tries to maintain her social position with a qualifying declaration, “Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a good tree.” She cannot give a compliment without inserting a putdown in the same breath. Even in the best situation, Lucy is Charlie Brown’s tormentor.
I’ve been there, as tormentor and the one being tormented. I know the feeling of peer pressure to conform and the need to be accepted. I admit to the name calling. It made me feel superior. That is, until the tables were turned.
I know how Charlie Brown as the verbal arrows penetrated his mind. I understand how he was convinced he couldn’t do anything right. Without a doubt, the worst critic lives inside those who identify with Charlie Brown.
We hurl the worst insults at ourselves. “See! They know you are stupid!” We may even throw around in a few more adjectives for good measure, such as idiot, bad, dumb, ugly, poor, slow or unworthy. After all, that’s what other people think about us, right?
In God’s eyes, we are not blockheads. The miracle of the Christmas story is that the Christ Child came to save us from sin’s penalty of eternal death and from ourselves. We are loved by this Savior, this Redeemer who died on the cross for our sins and rose again so we might gain eternal life in heaven.
Because of God’s sacrificial act of love toward us through the birth of his only Son, we are invited to respond, not only to him with a grateful heart, but to our fellow man.
As we celebrate Christ’s birth, God calls us to be his children and in the same way he loves us, we are to love those whom the world finds unlovable and undeserving.