Monday, December 24, 2007

The Meaning of Christmas

I loved watching the holiday Christmas specials on TV when I was a child. Every year the networks would preempt their regular programing to show specials that connected with the Christmas season; a time before VHS tapes and long before DVDs and On Demand. If you were going to watch Christmas specials you would have to check the TV Guide and make sure you were in front of the TV at the right time.

They would show Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Frosty the Snow Man, and Santa Claus is Coming To Town. I loved them all. But my favorite was A Charlie Brown Christmas. I don't exactly know why it was my favorite at the time, but I can certainly tell you why it is my favorite Christmas show today. In fact I love A Charlie Brown Christmas more today than I ever did as a child. When I watch the other 3 "classics" with my kids today, I scratch my head wondering what I saw in those sloppy shows. But when I watch Charlie Brown today I sit in awe thinking: what a masterpiece!

You know how the story goes... Charlie Brown is depressed feeling as if all the hustle and bustle of Christmas has left him behind. "I just don't understand Christmas, I guess," he says. "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." He gets some advice from his "psychologist" Lucy, and signs up to direct a Christmas pageant. But that only leaves Chuck more melancholy. When it is determined that the stage needs a Christmas tree he goes out for one with his friend Linus. The other children suggested Charlie get a plastic or a pink aluminum tree, but Chuck chooses the only live tree for sale: the classic Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Of course the tree is a disaster. He is laughed at and wonders what Christmas is all about.

Which brings us to the climax of the show. The resident theologian of the Peanuts gang, Linus, gives Charlie Brown the answer. He simply quotes Luke 2, telling the story of Jesus' birth. Linus does not interpret the words. He does not explain why Christmas is all about this reading from Scripture, he simply tells the story. Inspired by Linus' reading Charlie attempts to make his tree a winner, but is disappointed when he "kills" the tree after putting on one ornament. "Oh! Everything I touch gets ruined!" he says. The story does not end there, however, for it seems the rest of the Peanuts gang was also inspired by the reading from Luke. They help Charlie Brown decorate his tree.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is wonderful on so many levels. The music is fantastic. The themes are adult and its message is as appropriate today as it was in 1965 (the year the show premiered). The true meaning of Christmas is not found in pink aluminum Christmas trees, nor is it found in the presents and the stuff and the hoopla. The true meaning of Christmas is found in a child, in a manger, and in Bethlehem. The true message of Christmas is given by angels to shepherds in the fields: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" The true meaning of Christmas is not preached to the audience in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Instead, it is lived out by the characters through their change of attitude. They live Christ's peace by helping their fellow "Blockhead." Good news and joy is offered to everyone!

You just don't find that truth in the other Christmas specials of my youth. There is no mention at all of the true meaning of Christmas in Frosty or Rudolph. Most television executives were convinced A Charlie Brown Christmas would bomb. "No one wants to hear the King James Version of the Christmas story told to them," they said. Of course they were wrong.

May the true meaning of Christmas and its message of peace, hope, and salvation be in your heart. It brings joy to the melancholy and gives hope to the depressed. It is solid rock for a holiday that too often feels plastic and artificial. It is a Christmas message for kids, yes, but it actually improves with age.

May the gift of the Messiah bring you joy and move you to greater faith!