‘What is Christmas all about?’ asks Charlie Brown, in Charles M. Schultz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.
When A Charlie Brown Christmas was first released (December 1965), the overwhelming positive response took the television network executives by surprise. It was watched by forty-five percent of the television viewing audience that night. And now, over fifty years later it is still a Christmas classic and continues to draw millions.
Tired of the commercialism of Christmas, Charlie Brown wants to know its real meaning. We see Snoopy’s answer when he enters a Christmas lighting and decoration competition. For Sally, Charlie Brown’s young sister, it’s all about getting.
When once again Charlie Brown asks his question, Linus responds by taking center-stage and reading from Luke 2:8-14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid: for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth, 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 amongst those he favors’.
In an interview, Charles Schultz’s wife, Jeannie commented that her husband pushed back against the idea that there is no place for a Bible text in a cartoon. He insisted that the Bible is not just for God’s people – it is for everyone.
Schultz understood that Christmas is the twinning of Giving and Getting. God gave; we get or receive.
Indeed, this Advent season I have been drawing attention to the way, some seven centuries before Jesus was born, Isaiah foretold that a young woman would conceive and give birth to a son who would be named Immanuel – God with us (Isaiah 7:14).
But that is not all. In Isaiah chapter 9 we read that into the darkness of Israel’s experience at the time, a light would dawn in the north, the region of Galilee: Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who are in distress, Isaiah says.
Galilee was the region that had been subject to the Assyrian invasion. As Isaiah chapter 9 unfolds we read that a day of joy would come (verse 3); the signs of war would cease (verses 4 and 5); and the shadow of death would disappear. For, as verse 6 of chapter 9 says: To us a child is born, to us a son is given…
The sign of the dawning of the new day in God’s purposes would be something weak and insignificant – the birth of a baby. Yet, as Isaiah foreshadows, the government will be on his shoulders. His name was to be called, wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (9:6).
Through the lens of the New Testament we see the beginning of the fulfilment of these words – the first instalment, as it were. Matthew chapter 1, verses 21 through 23 records the words of the angel to Joseph: ‘(Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’.
So often we simply do not appreciate the full weight of this event. We may believe the baby born in Bethlehem to be the Son of God, but how often do we let the intense meaning of this birth pass us by?
How often do we pause and reflect on the reality that divinity walked the streets of Jerusalem? That infinite Wisdom and Power humbly took on human nature? That God poured his heavenly resources into rescuing us, even though it meant the violence and horror of a crucifixion?
It is for our sake that Christ condescended to such monumental humiliation. The lowly birth in Bethlehem points to Christ’s voluntary decision to set aside his glory for our sake. He came and he gave, to enrich us.
Because of God’s gift to us, we will want to respond with true repentance and deep thanks.
We will also want to emulate, no matter how feebly, the unspeakable generosity of God’s gift. Because God gave, we will want to live God’s way and to share with others the gift of joy and hope. Not condescendingly or aggressively, but graciously and generously.
There is a story about a fourth century bishop in Turkey. One Christmas he wanted to express his gratitude to God for the gift of Jesus. Going into a slum area of the city carrying a heavy sack on his back, he knocked on the door of one of the little mud houses and was greeted by the dirty faces of three young children. Taking the pack off his back he gave them each a warm woollen coat before disappearing back to his own home. The bishop was Nicholas of Myra.
The story of Nicholas, now thoroughly commercialized, is nevertheless a good example if true; a useful parable if a legend. He felt the weight of the words of Paul the Apostle in Second Corinthians, chapter eight, verse nine: For you know the generous gift of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Here is the greatest reason of all for Christian giving – and not just at Christmas.
You may want to find a way to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas with your family.
You may also want to give a special Christmas gift for the ministry of your church or a gospel mission. You may also like to make an end of year gift here to the ministry of the Anglican Connection. (Gifts in the US are tax deductible.)
May you know afresh the joy and rich blessing of God’s love this Christmas!
A prayer. Almighty God, you have given us your only Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be borne of a pure virgin. Grant that we, being born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.