Having recently had the annual opportunity to once again watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with my children, I found myself compelled to consider the wistful wisdom offered to us by the “Peanuts” comic strip creator, Charles Schultz. The world of Snoopy, Linus, Schroeder, Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty, and the rest is a bitter-sweet rehearsal of what so many folks experience in real life, but Schultz’ gentle approach also helps us to find humor in the daily ironies that come their way.
Charlie Brown’s idealism in the Christmas special is really a contrast of a person whose heart’s cry is a hunger for more than this life can give with that of a people who not only have forgotten what the real point of Christmas is but also can’t quite remember what the point of their Christianity is. There is a real danger that just as Lucy and the others expect Charlie Brown to come back with their idea of the perfect Christmas tree (a false one made of aluminum), Christians can come to build for themselves artificial spiritual constructs and believe these things to be the means to personal happiness.
And just what is an artificial spiritual construct? The first form of such a construct is a thing that we make or possess that we then celebrate as evidence of our spiritual well-being (like a building) and the second form is something WE “do” while neglecting the matters of our heart condition that Jesus found very important (see Matthew 23:23-28 ). An “artificial spiritual construct” then is nothing less than an idol. It is something we’ve concocted either by fashioning it literally with our hands or in the imagining it with our minds that then robs from God His position in our lives as the only true source of personal fulfillment, joy, and peace.
Charlie Brown’s war with commercialism aside, the REAL meaning of Christmas is pictured best in the little tree that no one else wanted. On the one hand, the tree represents all those who are “poor in spirit” who, through faith in Jesus, may inherit the kingdom of God (see Matthew 5:3). The lowly of heart (whether or not they are materially well off) are the very ones who are open enough for God to bless them. They are the ones who can most easily see that there really isn’t any hope or life without God and instead of fearing rejection at the hands of their Creator, they will find tenderness, compassion, and understanding. “A bruised reed He (Jesus) will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3a ESV). The lowly of heart with whom we come into contact while we walk through our daily routines? While we may not have enough time for them, God notes their need, their hurt, and their emptiness.
But Charlie Brown’s little tree isn’t perhaps really a picture of us after all, although we are small, forlorn, and barren before coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe it’s really a picture of Christ Himself, having taken on physical smallness in the form of a tiny baby in the mortal world, forlorn in finding that not even the local inn (not to mention the hearts of humanity) had room for Him, and was as barren as anything can be when wrapped up in rags and laid in a farm animal’s feedbox.
“Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:1-2 ESV).
Of course, much of the point in the little Christmas cartoon is tied up with Charlie Brown’s need for the tree, not the tree’s need for Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown is the one who is bereft of purpose, emptied of a sense of his own personal value, and filled with questions that no one can answer until Linus wisely recites the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2:1-14.
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with Child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 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 2:1-14 KJV).
So what is the moral of the story in “A Charlie Brown Christmas?” Merely that unlike the aluminum trees of Charlie Brown’s tree lot, the love of God is real and alive and that it reaches to the humble of heart. May your Christmas be focused on the only One Who can give it meaning… Jesus.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)