What Christmas is All About. #1, What Christmas Is Not All About!

November 29, 2015

Wow, it’s been fifty years. 
Sure doesn’t seem like it.  December 9th will be the 50th
anniversary of the first showing of Charlie Brown Christmas.  And while
most of us grew up watching the animated special there were a number of
hesitations about the show when it was aired.  As a matter of fact, for
the sponsor and the network all they were kind of hoping was that it wouldn’t
be a complete disaster, and they would be able to shelve it and hopefully
people would forget all about it. 

And maybe you are wondering what the
problem was.  It wasn’t a problem; it was a multitude of problems. 
When Coca Cola and CBS first started the project they were visualizing a little
light hearted animated Christmas special with laugh tracks and secular
themes.  Instead they ended up with this melancholy tale complete with
jazz music, what kid listens to jazz? And a reading from the King James Version
of the Bible.   

Peanuts creator Charles Shultz insisted that no laugh track be
used, in the meeting Shultz said “The network
should let the people at home enjoy the show at their own speed, in their own
way” and then he walked out of the room ending the argument. Sounds like
Schulz had a little bit of Lucy in him that day.  

Shultz also refused to use adult
actors for the voices and instead he cast neighbourhood children for the parts
to preserve the innocence but also to make it a little funnier and
edgier.  One snag was that some of the kids were so young they couldn’t
read and had to be fed their parts line by line.  The only adult voice
used was for Snoopy.   

But in spite of their worst fears
Charlie Brown Christmas has become an enduring part of  the Christmas Season. How many folks here have
watched the Charlie Brown Christmas at some point in their life?   

And the entire show comes down to
the question asked by Charlie Brown “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas
is all about
?” 

And over the next few weeks we will
be looking at: What Christmas is all About, but today we are going to look at
some of the answers given in the movie, because that was what was frustrating
to Charlie Brown, what he was hearing from the others. 

And even fifty years later I think
we can find a snapshot of society in the cast of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. 

For Snoopy Christmas is all about
Christmas 
It doesn’t
take long for us to discover that Snoopy is a big Christmas fan, he seems to
love Christmas, but what he really loves is the idea of Christmas. 

He loves all the hoopla and the
excitement, the lights and the glitz.  Snoopy would be right at the curb
for the parade of lights, and be first in line to see the Christmas tree lit in
Grand Parade.  And we all know people like Snoopy.   

My sister decorates for Christmas at
Halloween, and then she dresses up as Mrs. Santa Claus and hands out candy
canes to the trick or treaters while Christmas music plays in the background. 

There is a lady who works at Tim
Hortons who is obsessed with Christmas, I’m sure if you went in on March 17 and
asked her she could tell you how many days it is until Christmas, and she talks
about trees and lights, gifts and meals but that’s where it ends.  I’ve
invited her out to our Christmas services and she’s not interested, I think
they would interfere with the celebrations. 

For her Christmas is all about the
holiday and family and food.  And those aren’t bad things, but they aren’t
what Christmas is all about.   

For too many folks a Holy Day has
simply become a holiday, and we have lots of holidays to pick from.   

You can have a day off on
Thanksgiving, or Labour Day or Canada Day.  And along with the holiday
comes the opportunity to spend the time with family and with family comes food.  It’s like church: There’s no meeting without
eating. 

But you can have burgers on Canada
Day and Ham on Easter and if you are a big turkey fan, that’s what Thanksgiving
is for, you really don’t need Christmas.

And it’s easy to get caught up in
all the hype of Christmas without understanding what Christmas is all
about.   

Jesus came to give you eternal life,
not a holiday. 

In contrast to Snoopy we see Lucy
and For Lucy Christmas is all about the Effort.    Lucy
is so wrapped up in making sure that everything is just right for Christmas she
misses Christmas.  She’s organizing the Christmas play, is responsible for
finding the perfect tree and even needs to find time to help Charlie Brown get
into the Christmas spirit.   

When Charlie Brown confesses to Lucy
during their counselling session that he doesn’t understand Christmas and it
leaves him feeling down instead of happy her solution is easy.  She says, “You need involvement, you need to get involved in some
real Christmas projects.”  And then she recruits him to direct the
Christmas play, because for her that’s what makes Christmas, Christmas. 
All the stuff you do. 

There’s gifts and cards to be
bought.  Food to be cooked, presents to be wrapped, letters to be written
and cards to be mailed.  There are the staff parties to attend, turkeys to
be stuffed and church appearances to be made.   

And it’s not just that she’s busy,
Snoopy is busy but he’s happy busy.  The season lights a fire in Snoopy he’s
laughing and dancing, not one bit of stress will you find in our canine
friend.   

But the hustle and bustle of the
season just makes Lucy grumpier and more cynical.  She is stressed and
resents what she has to do and ultimately she tells Charlie Brown  “ Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas
is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” 

Sociologist Robert
Lynd nailed the difference between Snoopy and Lucy with this statement “There are some people who want to throw their arms round
you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle
you simply because it is Christmas.”  It doesn’t take long to
figure out who’s who here. 

There are lots of people who are
like Lucy and Christmas means lists and obligations and lots of stress and
regrets.  And there is enough stress and regrets in life without adding
Christmas to the pile.  So Christmas isn’t about the stuff we do.

Jesus came to give you eternal life,
not just more things to do.

And then there is Sally, Sally is
Charlie Browns’ baby sister.  The little girl who read Sally’s lines was
so young that she didn’t know how to read and she had to be fed the lines, bit
by bit and then she would repeat them back.  And For Sally Christmas is
all about Sally 
 

She wants Charlie Brown to help her
write her letter to Santa and when he tells her he’s busy she just brushes it
off and forces the paper and pencil on him.   

Her one concession to what others
are feeling is summed up when she finishes her letter to Santa by dictating “If it seems to complicated, make it easy on yourself and
just send money.  How about tens and twenties?”   

For some folks all of Christmas
revolves around what’s in it for them.  And it’s all about making them
happy?  Will the date work for them?  Will the food work for them?
Will the gift be what they were expecting and hoping for? They even insist on
picking the Christmas special that everyone will watch.    

Sally sums it up
when she tells her brother “All I want is what I
have coming to me.  All I want is my fair share.” 

And we might expect that of a four-year-old,
but not adults.  But for many that is the reality.  Regardless of our pious denials most of us
will be looking forward to what’s under the tree, with our name on it. 

Probably, if we were willing to be
totally honest we could say with C.S. Lewis “I
never had a selfless thought since I was born.”

But here is the reality, Christmas
isn’t about the stuff we do and it’s certainly not about the stuff we get. 

Jesus came to give you eternal life,
not Christmas presents. 

Let’s not forget the hero of our
story, because for Charlie Brown Christmas is all about Despair And
Charlie Brown isn’t alone.  

For the past few years we’ve had a
Blue Christmas service, on December 21st, this year we are simply
calling it “Silent Night”  but the tag line remains the same. “Christmas
isn’t Merry for everyone.” 

Shane Kelly. Manager of the Irish Association
for Counselling and Psychotherapy says “Christmas
is a time of happiness, reunions, family time, and these celebrations can
heighten feelings of loneliness and despair.”

At the beginning of the story
Charlie Brown tells Linus “I think there’s
something wrong with me Linus, Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.  I
don’t feel the way I’m suppose to feel.  I just don’t understand
Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and
decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy.  I always end up
feeling depressed.”     

Christmas seemed to magnify and
polarize what Charlie Brown felt his life was like the rest of the year, in one
scene he goes out and looks in his empty mail box for the Christmas Cards that
aren’t there and he says.  “I know nobody
likes me why do we need a holiday season to emphasize it?” 

For some it might be a reminder of
someone who is no longer there, either through death, divorce or simply
distance.  But when everyone else is celebrating family their loss becomes
more pronounced.   

Or maybe it’s because we can’t
afford the expectations that are placed upon us by society. 

In his 1973 song “If We Make it
Through December” Merle Haggert Sang.

“Got laid off down at
the factory 
And their timing’s not
the greatest in the world;
Heaven knows I been
working hard,
Wanted Christmas to be
right for daddy’s girl;
I don’t mean to hate
December,
It’s meant to be the
happy time of year;
And my little girl don’t
understand
Why daddy can’t afford no
Christmas here” 

And nobody else in the story
understands, to them Charlie Brown is just being Charlie Brown. 

And simply saying “cheer up”, or “get
involved” or reminding them how others are worse off than they are doesn’t
help. 

If you find yourself in that camp, I
would like to invite you out to our Silent Night Service on December 21st,
we won’t try to force you to cheer up, it is simply a time of reflection in a service
that is a little quieter than most of our Christmas offerings.  

Jesus came to give you eternal life, not despair. 

For Linus Christmas is all about
Christmas
And maybe you are thinking, “Denn must be
losing it, that’s what he said about Snoopy.” But Snoopy and Linus are at
opposite ends of the Christmas spectrum.   

Snoopy is all about the secular
aspects of Christmas while Linus seems to be all about the spiritual side of
it.   

Linus seems to be the one who gets
it, he recites the Christmas story from memory, from the King James version no
less, and he challenges people to look deeper into the Christmas story.  

After he recites the Christmas story
he proudly turns to Charlie Brown and proclaims: “And that’s what Christmas is
all about Charlie Brown.”   

And we all know people like, Linus
they are the ones the “Keep Christ in Christmas”  button on their winter
coat, the “Jesus is the reason for the season” bumper sticker on their cars and
the inflatable nativity scene on their front lawn.  Not that there is
anything wrong with an inflatable nativity scene.   

They are the first to challenge the
commercialization of Christmas and sometimes they go to the extreme of demanding
that we fire Santa and shoot all the reindeer, pull down the lights and return
the presents.   

The problem is that on January 1st
they pack up Christmas, along with their nativity scene and put it away for
another year.  Sure, they keep Christ in Christmas but that’s where he
stays, in Christmas.   Just as some people are guilty of leaving
Christ on the Cross after the Easter story Linus is content to leave the baby
Jesus sleeping quietly in the manger after Christmas is over.

Linus wants to keep Christ in
Christmas the same way he wants to keep the Great Pumpkin in Halloween. 
That’s where he belongs. 

But how much difference has the
Christmas story made in the life of Linus? 
In the opening scene when Charlie Brown is deep in despair Linus
encourages him by saying “Out of all the Charlie
Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”  Linus where’s the love?

Jesus came to give you eternal life,
not a religious celebration.

And maybe at this point you are
thinking, “Wow If Christmas isn’t even about Christmas what is it about?”   

Well, over the next few weeks we are
going to travel back in time 2000 years to see if we can find the answers. 

But here are some things to keep in
mind as we look ahead.

Christmas Isn’t Just a Day or an Event.  As long as we see Christmas as December 25th
or even view it in a broader sense as “The Christmas Season” we will miss what
Christmas is all about. 

American President Calvin
Coolidge said  “Christmas is not a time or a season but a
state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to
have the real spirit of Christmas.”  You
see Christmas has to be as valid and valuable in July as it is in
December. 

If Christmas doesn’t make a difference in how
we live every day, not just December 25th than it has made a
difference at all.  Because when we
celebrate the birth of Christ we should be celebrating something bigger than a
baby being born in a barn 2000 years ago. 
With the birth of Jesus, we need to be celebrating changed lives, a
changed world and changed eternities. 

Otherwise we are like the shepherds who were
invited to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, they showed up they rejoiced and
they disappeared.  Not a mention again of
the shepherds, Jesus birth had a great immediate impact on them, but nothing
long lasting and certainly nothing eternal.

Christmas has to last longer than the leftovers
if we are to truly understand what Christmas is all about.  Charles Dickens
wrote “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try
to keep it all the year.”

Because Dickens understood the truth that if
Christmas doesn’t change your life, then you’ve missed what Christmas is all
about

And Christmas Isn’t About
a Baby Being Born 
Too many
people who proudly talk about keeping Christ in Christmas or reminding people
that Jesus is the reason for the season have a one dimensional view of Jesus
and it is summed up in Luke 2:7 KJV And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped
him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room
for them in the inn.

And truthfully that’s how it
all began, Paul reminds us of that in Galatians 4:4  But when the right time came,
God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  I love that passage, because it reminds us
that Jesus wasn’t born at just any time he was born at the right time.  But let’s never forget that the baby born in
the manger wasn’t just the son of Mary, he was the Son of God. 

Too often in our haste to
make sure that at Christmas people take the time to celebrate Christ’s birth we
miss the enormity of Christ’s birth.

Ken Herr in the Wesleyan Bible Commentary reminds us “This
was not just another baby or another birthday. God was born in human likeness—the
Divine taking upon himself the limitations of humanity.” 

Which is why Paul reminded the early
Christians in Philippians 2:6-7  Though
he (Jesus) was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling
to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble
position of a slave and was born as a human being.

Did you catch that?  Jesus was God! God!  He created the universe, he shaped the
planets in his hand and cast the milky way into the night sky, he always was
and always will be and he chose to come to earth as a new born child.

God chose to take part in
the full range of the human experience, beginning with the trauma of his birth,
and I can’t imagine much more traumatic in this life than the birth experience
for the new born.  Everybody coos and
talks about how beautiful of an experience birth is, if a new born could talk
I’m not sure they would agree that what they had just gone through was
beautiful.

And for the next
thirty-three years Jesus lived his life just as we live our lives, from potty
training to puberty, Jesus experienced life just like us. 

When your teenager says in
the midst of their angst.  “You just don’t
understand” they somehow think you were magically conceived as an adult and
never went through what they are going through. 

In the same way we sometimes
yell at God, “You just don’t understand.” 
But we are reminded in  Hebrews 2:18  Since
he (Jesus)  himself has gone through
suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.  I would suspect that Jesus fell and
skinned his knees, that he had the cold and measles, that he was probably teased
at some point by other kids.

He may have had his heart
broken by the little girl with red hair and peered into an empty mailbox
waiting for the card that would never appear.  

What is Christmas
about?  Sure it began with a child being
born of a virgin, far from home.  And
there were angels and shepherds and wise men with gifts.  But that was just the beginning.  And for some it seems to have ended
thirty-three years and six miles down the road when Jesus was crucified, but
that too was just a beginning.   

Who will define Christmas this year
for you?  You will.