Every year, just as the seasons change and the weather falls into predictable patterns, we encounter a rhythm that is attached to our celebration of Christmas. There is a predictability to Christmas that can bring both comfort and frustration. The comfort is rooted in something we know and expect. We already know that we like it. We know the familiar patterns of the events, and so we welcome it. However, the frustration comes when we long for something more, something that steps beyond the normal pattern of things. What if the usual way of observing this season leaves us longing for more? What if the predictability of Christmas traditions has left us disconnected from the real reason for the season?
Every year, the faithful bemoan the over commercialization of the celebration of our Lord’s birth. Every year, we are shocked by the amount of decorations that spring up in stores before we’ve even bought our Thanksgiving turkeys. We get saturated in the pressure to buy gifts for people we don’t especially care for. We eat too much and settle into the rhythms of office parties and traveling to see family and gathering in church to hear the story one more time.
In many ways, we play out each and every year our own predictable version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. We get caught up in the pageants and the tinsel and the shiny trees and the lights on our homes, and we even have that moment when we gather together and turn down the lights and listen to our version of Linus stand up and tell the story of our Lord’s birth.
If you remember the story, and let’s be honest everyone can for the telling of this story is part of the predictability of the season, it begins with Charlie Brown confessing that he doesn’t know what Christmas is all about. And then Linus tells (to the shock of TV viewers everywhere) the story of our Lord’s birth in the little town of Bethlehem from Luke’s Gospel. And then Christians around the world cheer as Linus approaches Chuck and says, “That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”
And this is what we do every year. We go to church and hear the story, and we are reminded over and again that Jesus is the reason for the season. This is what it is all about. Behind the tinsel and gifts is our Lord. But this is not enough. The nice history lesson that Linus takes us on isn’t enough! And it is not the reason for the season.
Linus’ story lacks the distinct “For You” of the Gospel. It tells the story of what happened, but why does that matter to Charlie Brown? Is it just so he can adjust the focus of his celebration or correct the Christmas pageant? Is it a reminder to him to not get caught up in the commercialization of everything, that even his scrawny little tree has a place in the celebration? Good Lord, no. It is so much more.
Christmas is about human sin and condemnation. Christmas is about the weakness of the flesh. Christmas is about a God who out of his divine mercy and goodness sent his only begotten Son to die for you. For your failures and doubts and fears. For your selfishness and pride, our Lord was born in the little town of Bethlehem.
Christmas isn’t about just telling the story. It is about proclaiming the Good News. It is about telling Charlie Brown that though his friends are a bunch of jerks and he feels alone and filled with shame and guilt he is not outside the love of God. It is to tell him that in Christ alone there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. In fact, because of that incarnation, because of the birth of Christ, Linus can now say to Charlie Brown, “You are loved. You are forgiven. You are a child of God. And you, yes you, are the reason for the season!”
And that is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.