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.
“…That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” It’s OK to admit it, you were probably hearing that passage in Linus’ voice. I was, too. The American public first heard Linus van Pelt recite those words of scripture as part of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in December of 1965, when I was just five years old. Believe it or not, I actually remember watching that show that very first year that it aired, and I think I’ve seen it every year since.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” hit television at a crucial time in this country. At that time, we were still living in the fear and uncertainty of the Cold War. We didn’t know anything about “Duck Dynasty,” but we knew about “Duck and Cover” – when we kids were taught that if the Russians dropped the bomb on us, we were supposed to crawl under our antiquated old school desks, and those wooden tops with the little hole for the inkwell and the cast iron side legs were supposedly going to shield us from the effects of thermonuclear holocaust. 1965 was also the first year that a large number of families in this country were facing a Christmas with a loved ones shipped off to some faraway, unknown place called Vietnam; in March of that year there were only some 5,000 soldiers in that little country, but now, in December, there were more than 200,000 of them there. It was a time of great social upheaval – many of our social norms and traditions were beginning to be questioned and challenged as we moved deeper into the decade of the 60s. And while Christmas celebrations in America had always had some commercial component, the commercialization of the holiday really seemed to explode in the late 1950s and 60s. It was a time of real uncertainty and worry, and questioning where everything was really going.
And in the midst of all these things, in December of that year a little round-headed boy trying to make sense out of that uncertainty and inner turmoil he was feeling, and all the ways that consumerism was cheapening our souls, seemed to be speaking for so many people when he finally threw up his hands and asked, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?”
And then, of course, Linus, the minor prophet with a security blanket, stepped into the spotlight and recited those same simple, beautiful lines of scripture that we just heard. It was a message of God’s hope, and love, and peace, not just to Charlie Brown, but to a whole country of anxious people. And not just to them, but now, almost 50 years later, those words of scripture speak hope and love and peace to us, too – since, unfortunately, we still have many of those same worries and fears. These days, we don’t do silly things like ducking under school desks to protect us from nuclear bombs; we do silly things like stripping off our shoes in airports to protect ourselves from shoe bombs. Thank goodness the TSA didn’t take the same approach after they caught the underwear bomber. And these days, we don’t wonder when our kids will come home from Vietnam, but we do wonder when they’ll get home from Iraq and Afghanistan. And we do still worry about the damage that commercialization and consumerism do to our society. Then and now, those beautiful words from Luke’s gospel remind us all of the message of hope and love and peace that Christ’s birth is all about. The message that the God of all creation loves us so much as to put all that divine power and glory aside to become one of us, in the flesh. And not to enter our world as a person of power or riches or status, but as one of the lowest of the low. The crying little child in the manger came into the world to show us that God is truly with us at all times – in our laughter and joy, and also in our pain and sorrow. God is with us when we’re mistreated and abused. When we’re tired and hungry and afraid. When we’re sick, and suffering. When we’re dying.
Christ’s birth is the message that God will seek us out, wherever, however, to let us know that we are loved. And the message that God’s way is the way of love and peace, for all people – peace for every one of us here in this country. Peace for every person in Vietnam, and Iraq, and Afghanistan. Peace for every person in Syria and South Sudan. Peace in our cities, our homes, our families. Peace in our own hearts. God truly loves us and wants us all to know and enjoy love, and peace. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. And those truly are tidings of great joy to all people that make the angels sing – and that tonight, make us sing, too.