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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I’m guessing that most of you have seen “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the Christmas special featuring Charlie and all the other “Peanuts” characters. First aired in 1965, it, more than any other Christmas special, captures the true meaning of Christmas.
On their way to join their friends ice skating, Charlie confides in Linus that, despite all the things he likes about the Christmas season, he is still depressed. When Linus offers little help, Charlie visits Lucy, who suggests that he direct the group’s annual Christmas play so he might get in the Christmas spirit.
As he heads for rehearsal Charlie becomes even more discouraged by the commercialization of Christmas. Lucy laments not receiving real estate for Christmas; Snoopy decorates his doghouse for a neighborhood lights and display context; and Charlie’s younger sister Sally asks him to write a greedy letter to Santa Claus. At the rehearsal, Charlie Brown finds a play fit for the 1960s with dancing, lively music, an uncooperative cast, and a Christmas diva (Lucy). Unable to control the cast, Charlie Brown decides the play needs something to enhance the “proper mood,” and recommends getting a Christmas tree.[i]
At the tree lot, Charlie Brown picks the only real tree left, a spindly small sapling. Linus questions his choice, but Charlie believes that once decorated, it will be perfect. When they return, however, Lucy and the others laugh at him and the tree. Exasperated, Charlie Brown loudly asks if anyone knows what Christmas all is about; Linus says he does, walks to center stage, asks for a spotlight, recites the annunciation to the shepherds:[ii]
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto 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 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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 toward men” (Luke 2:8–14, KJV 1900).
Finishing his recitation, Linus comes back to Charlie and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
This scene is the highlight of this Christmas classic, one that Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz, a devout Christian had to fight to have included in the final cut of the special. But it really sums it up. This is what Christmas is all about: That little babe born in Bethlehem, the one the shepherds will find “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” He is Christ our Lord, our Savior.
He doesn’t look like much. But looks are often deceiving when it comes to God’s plan of salvation. This baby is the Seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). He is the Son of Abraham, the One through whom all the families will be blessed (Genesis 12). He is the Son of David, the One promised who will reign in His kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:13). He is the Suffering Servant, foretold by Isaiah, who was despised and rejected by men, a man acquainted with grief, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.
This baby, the Son of God, and son of Mary is born to die, to die on the cross in payment for the sins of the world. They will wrap Him in strips of cloth and lay His in the tomb. Three days later, He will rise from the dead. That’s what the angels mean when they say, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
“Fear not!” Those are the first words of the angel to the shepherds. Which reminds me about another thing about “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that I’d never noticed until one of my pastor friends pointed it out: Did you ever notice when Linus says, “Fear not,” he drops his ubiquitous security blanket? The same words that calm the fears of the shepherds that first Christmas night, seem to give Linus courage and confidence, too. He takes his blanket and wraps it around the base of the skinny tree for support.
For the faithful, the birth of Christ brings an end to all fear (cf. 1 John 4:18). Unfortunately, some still choose to reject God’s kingdom, and they will receive the news of Jesus’ birth with fear (e.g., Herod). Thus, Jesus’ birth portends both Law and Gospel: the child will cause the fall of some, the resurrection of others (Luke2:34). Though God’s will is for it to be received as great Gospel joy.[iii]
God is awe-full and perfect and hating sin. His holiness and almightiness frighten us and make us want to hide from Him and Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden and as people often do today. A sinner in the Presence of the Lord God Almighty is quite uncomfortable. But dear children of all ages, look at the Babe in Bethlehem. There is God. Are you afraid of a baby? No, not at all. We all love babies, especially the Baby Jesus. No one is offended at this Jesus. We can handle a baby; and if this Babe in Mary’s arms is God … well, we can handle God, right?
But there’s the problem and it’s a problem for everyone here today … from those who are here for the first time, for those who are here every week possible. We all like the Jesus of the Christmas story because we think this is a fine story and it’s profoundly good and worthwhile to listen to it once a year on Christmas Eve. But too often we want to keep Jesus at arm’s length … like the wooden manger and the doll that we store away for 364 days a year … or like an ornament that is taken from the box and hung on the tree … hung on a tree … hmmm.
This becomes the major issue with many people. They don’t mind the symbolism of the Jesus doll in the manger on the floor but become offended with Jesus on the cross … at the crucifix on the altar. Why? Because Christ born is more acceptable than Christ crucified. Please do not be offended at the Good News of great joy … at the Gospel for the apostolic declaration for the pastor is to be determined to proclaim nothing among you except Christ crucified for the sins of the world.
Behold, the Jesus of Bethlehem is the same Jesus of Golgotha. We may not separate the two, for there are not two Jesuses. Rather, it’s the same Body and Blood at both places—Jesus in Bethlehem’s manger—Jesus on Golgotha’s cross. Jesus was born in order to die … to shed His Blood to pay for the sins of the world … to give His Body unto death … to suffer hell in order to open heaven … to die in order to give life.
Even all of this is not enough, however. For Jesus could have died a thousand times and you could have heard that truth a thousand times; and it still would not be of any benefit to you. Jesus died. That is true! But it would not be of benefit until you heard that Jesus was crucified and died … for you! That Jesus rose again from the dead for you. That He gave His life for you … for you! In fact, Jesus could have been born a thousand times and you could hear this truth year; and still, it would not be of any benefit to you. Jesus is born. This is true. But it would not be of benefit until you heard that Jesus was born … for you … for you! God did all this for you.
This Babe’s for you. So also, you could show up seventy Sundays in as many years to hear the Christmas Story, but it is not of any benefit until you realized that this is the true story of the Birth of the Savior for you. Or as the shepherds heard from the Christmas angel …
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 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger (Luke 2:10-12 KJV 1900).
Jesus was born for you … lived for you … died for you … rose again for you and ascended into heaven for you! That’s what Christmas is all about!
Go in the peace of the Lord. You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
[i] A Charlie Brown Christmas – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Charlie_Brown_Christmas.
[ii] A Charlie Brown Christmas – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Charlie_Brown_Christmas.
[iii] Arthur A. Just, Jr. Luke 1:1-9:50 Concordia Commentary series. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 106-07.