At the beginning of the wonderful “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Charlie Brown is depressed, and he doesn’t know why. Christmas is right around the corner, but all the festivities just don’t feel right. The preoccupation with presents and decorating for Christmas display contests seem too commercial, and a mailbox empty of Christmas cards doesn’t help his mood.
Charlie turns to Lucy at her psychiatrist’s booth for help, and she suggests directing the school Christmas play for some holiday inspiration. “You need involvement,” Lucy tells him. Charlie agrees, but runs into frustration again when the gang won’t listen to a word he says.
Exasperated, Charlie wonders, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
I feel like Charlie often this particular Advent season. I scramble to finish up things at work before heading to California for Christmas, I struggle to find just the right gifts for friends and family, I complain about this surprising run of South Jersey snowstorms. In the midst of my running back and forth, there’s a part of me that jump into bed and not move until January.
Just like Charlie Brown, I need help.
Luckily, for Charlie and for me, this is where Linus comes in. In the movie, Linus responds to Charlie’s frustration by turning to Scripture, as he stands in the middle of the auditorium stage and recites from Luke’s nativity story. An angel of the Lord has just appeared to shepherds watching their flocks, and he says to them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
In these tiring days, I can find at least a bit of rest in these words from the author of Luke’s Gospel. Here is someone who knew what Christmas is all about: great joy and the awesome love of God.
First: joy. Luke probably wrote his Gospel after 70 AD, decades after Jesus’ earthly ministry had finished. He wasn’t sitting in the manger, chronicling the life of Jesus from the very first minute. The resurrection had already occurred when Luke sat down to write, and early Christian communities were developing and the Word was spreading. So, from that perspective, why bother going all the way back to Jesus’ birth for a few chapters before jumping 30 years to the start of his ministry? Why not just do like Mark and John and start his Gospel when Jesus was already an adult? Because Luke knew that the birth of Christ was a big deal.
Luke tells us the Christmas story to remind us that from the very start, Jesus Christ was the savior of the world. He didn’t transform from a human to the Son of God on the cross, or through the resurrection, or when he ascended into heaven. There, on that night 2000 years ago, God became an infant, fully divine and fully human. So at Christmas, we celebrate those early moments of the Incarnation, which is the radical belief that our God took on human flesh, suffered and died out of love for us. Much more than a sentimental story, at Christmas we rejoice for the presence of God among us. Luke makes it clear: this is a joy-filled thing to celebrate!
Second: love. Out of the millions of ways God could have come into the world, he chose an infant: a person completely dependent on the loving care of his parents.
One of my favorite theology professors once told our class that if he were the Son of God, this is not how he would’ve arrived. Instead, he would wear a sash that said “Son of God,” ride on a float in the Rose Parade, and zap people he didn’t like.
God could’ve done something grand like this, but he didn’t. Instead, God comes to us in incredible humility, with the innocence of an infant in a manger. The gentleness, meekness, and simplicity of the scene show us how God operates. God’s power is not of the sash-wearing variety, but the kind of power that exists in the loving gaze of a mother upon her newborn son. It is the transforming power of love.
Even though Christmas is fast approaching, it’s not too late to plow a path through the busyness and the fatigue to make some room for the joy and love of God. Taking just a bit of time each day in silent reflection on these two themes from Luke’s nativity story can begin change our hearts and chase the worries off for a while. And then we might just be a bit closer to really knowing what Christmas is all about.