On November 30, 2015, the ABC television network aired the 50th anniversary special of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” This annual animated TV show, based on Charles Schultz’s comic strip “Peanuts,” has traditionally aired shortly following the Thanksgiving weekend to kick off the Christmas season. It tells the story of Charlie Brown’s depression and angst at Christmas as he tries to find the point of it all amidst the shallow emptiness of commercialism.
The show is a big deal for me—so big, in fact, that I consider it the start of my Advent season. My tradition is that my Christmas tree and lights must be up and glowing before the program airs.
I want to kick of my Christmas celebration with the whole Peanuts gang.
That year, in 2015, the 50th anniversary special included a message from then-President Barak Obama. He said that this beloved Christmas program teaches us that “tiny trees just need a little love and that on this holiday we celebrate peace on Earth and good will toward all.”
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is about a tiny tree? Did the President miss the part where Linus walks onstage and quotes Luke 2:8:14?
That moment was pretty hard to miss. After Charlie Brown laments the stress and anguish of the holidays while staging a disastrous Christmas play, he cries out for anyone to tell him what Christmas is really all about. His friend Linus responds matter-of-factly, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”
Linus walks onto the stage and quotes the gospel of Luke:
“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 unto you good tiings 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. 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.'”
He then returns to the stage wing and concludes, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
The bookends couldn’t be more clear. The speech starts with, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about” and ends with “That’s what Christmas is all about.” Further, Linus is on the stage by himself. A single spotlight shines down on him. The camera never cuts away from him. It’s as if Charles Shultz is saying directly to the audience: “Look here. Here is the message. Don’t miss this. Right here. This is the point I am making.”
Fifty years later, the President of the United States somehow managed to twist this into: No, it’s about a tree that needs love. One has to be impressed at the strength of the neck muscles required to resist the gravitational pull of the obvious.
It was a bizarre event, and a big letdown for me. (Still is—see, here I am still thinking about it four years later.)
What bothers me is that this is just another example of how we continue to misinterpret the clearest meaning of this season.
It’s about exchanging gifts, marketers say; but what if I can’t afford to give gifts, or my gifts are rejected by others, or I receive hurtful gifts or no gifts at all?
It’s about happy memories, friends, and family, society says; but what if all my memories are of family fights, abuse, and desertion, and I have no love or trust in my life?
It’s about peace on earth, the former President says; but what if we can’t make peace happen? Face it, look at the headlines—we’re light-years away from that elusive ideal.
Like Charlie Brown, without Christ I’d be depressed too. Truth is, as a kid I hated Christmas after my parents divorced—hated the feeling of being divided between them, hated that my mom and one sister weren’t around anymore, hated that we’d never be together as a family again.
But Christmas is about none of those things.
It’s about the birth of the One who came to save us. It’s not about “peace on earth,” but about the Prince of Peace who will finally make things right. It’s not about a tiny tree that needs love, but about a Savior’s love that heals his sin-broken creation. Ironically, a tree is what will later lift up that same Savior to die for that same sin.
Linus is absolutely correct: Christ is the meaning of Christmas, and he is the way out of our depression and darkness.
Your world, like mine, is broken. But I encourage you, during this cold, lonely month, to anticipate with joy the Savior who not only came to die for humanity, but will come again to “set right” all of creation.
Don’t let Christmas become a mere frenzy of gifts and activities—and don’t listen to the lie that it’s just a vague human wish for “world peace.”
Allow Christ to present himself to you this Christmas. Allow hope and anticipation of his arrival wash over you in the bleakness. Wait for him. Listen for him. Cry out for the Messiah—God in the flesh—to come and heal his people.
In the darkness of December, let the Light of the World enter your heart.
Then worship. Celebrate the coming of our King.