A Charlie Brown Christmas
Not all Christmas movies were made for the big screen. Some of the most enduring Christmas movies were made specifically for a family to sit at home together, drinking hot chocolate, and enjoy. Our movie this morning is just that type of movie and this year is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary. I wanted to spend the Sunday before Christmas talking about A Charlie Brown Christmas as we try to find the real meaning of the holiday season.
In our modern day parable Charlie brown is struggling with Christmas. Instead of being the most wonderful time of the year Charlie Brown says that this holiday always leaves him depressed. On the advice of Lucy, Charlie Brown directs the school play about the Nativity, but he quickly loses control of the production. He is sent out to find a Christmas tree for the play but instead of buying a big, shiny, aluminum tree as he was instructed to do, he chooses a pitiful little twig.
While everyone is talking about how big a failure he is, Charlie Brown asks if anyone knows what Christmas is all about. The seminal moment in the parable comes when Linus answers his question.
This is one of my favorite Christmas scenes for a couple of reasons. A few years ago I was watching this with a friend of mine, and he drew my attention to something that I had not noticed before. Each character has a distinct look or characteristic that is tied to that character. Charlie Brown has a round bald head and a striped shirt. Pig pen is surrounded with a cloud of dust, Schroder is at the piano, Lucy has a blue dress and Linus has a security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all work to no avail to separate Linus from his blanket. And even though his security blanket remains a major source of ridicule, Linus refuses to give it up. The story of Linus is built around his inability to leave behind his security blanket which is a symbol of his fear. The blanket is what gives Linus security and peace in his life. Without his blanket, his life is a mess.
That’s why what happens in this scene is so important, and for most of my life I missed it. When Linus goes on the stage and starts to quote the story he clutches his blanket when he says, the shepherds were “sore afraid”. But when the angel says, “Fear not” Linus drops his blanket. In the middle of the stage, surrounded by light, Linus drops his blanket to show that he believes the angels message. It’s as if the angel’s proclamation of a Savior proves a distraction of another kind. For those few fleeting moments, Linus ditches the comfort of his blanket for something better.
It’s a perfect moment in a classic parable that teaches us that Jesus makes security blankets unnecessary. Just like the birth of Jesus allowed Linus to drop his blanket, the birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable or unwilling to break ourselves. And the birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead.
Another reason that I have loved this scene is because in a very unassuming way Linus reminds us of the theology that what we do for other people is what really matters. That is something that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. In this time of the year we get so bogged down with gifts and parties it’s easy to forget that Jesus is most important thing. How wonderful our homes could be, how wonderful our lives could be, how wonderful our world could be, if we really did put into practice the blessing of peace on earth, good will toward men.
During this time of year we are filled with hope, we think maybe it’s not impossible. Maybe we really could have hearts filled with love. Maybe we really could be kind to each other, and not just once a year, but all year long. Maybe today you will leave here with renewed hope and faith in mankind. You will leave this place with the idea that you are going to be different, you want to be a person who is intentional about spreading peace on earth and good will to everyone.
Then you get into your car and on the way to the restaurant someone cuts you off. You know they saw you, but they cut you off non the less. At the restaurant you see an empty table but they make you wait anyway. But this is a small town and there are not a lot of options for lunch on Sunday, tomorrow will be better after all you think peace on earth and good will to man.
Tomorrow doesn’t start off much better. The alarm doesn't go off and you over sleep. The kids can’t find their socks, or their back packs. You grab a granola bar as you rush out the house. Once you are finally in the car you spill your coffee in your lap. And you think peace on earth, good will towards man.
What you might not know is that was the best part of you day. Angry customers and coworkers who have way to much anxiety make you wish that you would have just stayed in bed. Kids who are bored, a dog that gets sick on the living room floor, you have to make one more trip to Wal-Mart and you are just ready for the day to end. Finally you force the kids into bed, one more drink, one more trip to the bathroom and you settle down and turn on the news. A political candidate said what? There was a shooting where? Who bombed who? And this holiday season you are left feeling more like Charlie Brown and a lot less like Linus. So tell me again about this peace on earth and goodwill towards man.
As the Angels met the shepherds in their fields the message they sang was, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will to men.” While that sounds nice, we live in a world filled with enemies. Peace seems so elusive, and good will is not all that universal but it is possible.
One of my favorite Christmas songs has found it’s way into a recent Microsoft commercial. While it might not be as famous as Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, it’s words are just as powerful. Look with me at lyrics to Let Their Be Peace On Earth:
Let there be peace on earth And let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth The peace that was meant to be. With God as our Father Brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother In perfect harmony. Let peace begin with me Let this be the moment now. With every step I take Let this be my solemn vow. To take each moment And live each moment With peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me
We can have peace on Earth, and goodwill to men. I believe that God’s promise to the shepherds on that hillside is still possible today. But we have to decide to do good to those who don’t.
While it may be difficult, it is not impossible. The running theme throughout the Bible is that if there is going to be peace on earth then we, as God's people, must learn to treat our enemies with love. It’s a principle that goes all the way back to Exodus 23. While Moses is explaining the law to the people he says, “If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, do not leave it there, be sure you help him with it.”
That can be hard for us to do because our normal inclination is to love those who love us and hate those who hate us. But that is not the way God wants His people to be. The beautiful picture that comes out of our Bibles is that if there is ever going to be peace in our world then God's people, us, must learn how to treat our enemies.
God loves us all equally, even the folks we struggle to love. God’s love never ceases, even though we get to the point where we say no more. And God’s love is available even though we don't return His love, His love is still there.
And God did not ask us to do something that was unattainable; but just because we can love our enemies doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. God knows what it’s like to sacrifice. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. God didn’t sacrifice for us because we were lovable or even agreeable. Paul writes in Romans 5: But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. … since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends (brought peace into our relationship with) of God. God calls you to bear His image, and if we are going to do that we must bear His image of love, because source of love and peace is God Himself. From His great heart comes this love that is for all.
When the Angels appeared to the Shepherds they declared that the prince of peace had come. Jesus is our example of what loving others, especially our enemies looks like. Let me show you what I mean.
In Matthew 5-7 Jesus delivers the greatest sermon mankind has ever heard. In that Sermon on the mountain side Jesus talked about being gentle and showing mercy He told the crowd to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. When He was finished the crowd was amazed and had never heard teaching like this. So we get to chapter 8 and we see that the crowds are following Him.
Then as He enters the city of Capernaum we read that a centurion came to him, asking for help. Often times when I read this text I just go on past that part to get to the good stuff. What I have often missed is that this is the good stuff.
Don’t forget that Jesus is a Jew, living under Roman occupation. At His birth Herod the Great, The Roman King, was in power. He was a ruthless and bloody man who had all of the male children 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding area killed. After His death the Romans sent Herod Antipas to rule Jerusalem who was followed by Pilate. All of these men who vicious and unmerciful to the Jewish people.
The man who approaches Jesus was a centurion, a part of the machine that made up the Roman Empire. His rank alone speaks to his loyalty to the Romans. There is an old adage that Centurions were submissive and cruel. This man had probably killed, or tortured, or abused many Jews; He was definitely an enemy of Christ.
While it sounds at face value that this man is asking Jesus to help someone else, his request is pretty self serving. Hey Jesus I have this possession, this slave that I either stole or bought off the auction block. This possession has value so would you mind healing him for me? So what is Jesus going to do? Face to face with His enemy, Jesus shows love and compassion.
The world Jesus entered was not a world of peace. There were greedy innkeepers and greedy tax collectors and greedy politicians taking all they could get. It’s easy to forget that when we look at those beautiful Christmas cards with the midnight sky and sparkling stars and the wonderful manger scene of the animals and shepherds and a couple standing next to a beautiful baby with a halo around his head.
Jesus was born into this broken, war torn world. While He was here He just kept on loving. His parents had to flee into Egypt to save His life, but He kept on loving. He grew up in a gossipy little town called Nazareth where fellow teenagers probably made fun of Him because He was not like them and He kept on loving.
He grew up in a world where His own people would not welcome Him and where the religious leaders, who should have recognized Him, brought false accusations against Him and then crucified Him. And when Jesus hangs on that cross He cries out, “Father forgive them. They don't know what they are doing.”
God does not tell us to do something He is unwilling to do or has not already done. Here is God loving when love is not returned. Here is God with His enemies gathered around the cross, giving them what they really needed more than anything else His great love. Because peace depends on my willingness to give.
There is a beautiful little passage tucked away in the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 25:21-22. we read “If your enemy is hungry give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
I want you to notice the phrase you will heap burning coals on his head. I have always read that and thought, "Well, I can't do anything to my enemies, but God will get them. He'll punish them, and His punishment will be like putting burning coals on their heads." For many years I thought that this was what this passage was teaching. But I was a bit ignorant we are of some of their customs.
A Rabbi explained to me that in the Middle East they carried almost everything on their head. They carried water pots and baskets of food on their heads. They even carried pans of hot coals on their head. Fire is essential for life. It keeps you warm when it’s cold. It cooks your food. It provides light at night. This text was written before the age of matches or Bic lighters. The only way to keep a fire going was to never let it go out. If your fire went out the kindest thing a person could do would be to give you coals from their fire.
Solomon is telling you, When your enemy's fire goes out give him coals from your own fire. He will carry them home on his head so that he can be warm and cook his food and have light at night. God will reward you for your kindness, and your enemy might even become your friend. Solomon knew that our behavior, words, and actions must be different from the rest of the world. That’s the only way they will know that God has really made a difference in our hearts and in our lives.
So never think that the words, Peace on earth, good will toward men, are just words that we read at Christmas time. Realize that God spoke seriously and that He expects us to listen and begin to put them into practice.
The good news of Christmas is that long ago, in the midst of great darkness, there came a light and all the darkness of the world was not able to overcome it. And it was not a temporary flicker, but an eternal flame.
There are times, in the events of the world and in the events of our own personal lives, when we may feel that the light is being snuffed out. But then Christmas comes, and affirms once again that whatever happens, the light is still shining, and we can escape the darkness if we’ll see and follow Jesus.