A Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity + December 24, 2017

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ: Christmas Eve
First Lesson: Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Second Lesson: Titus 2:11-14
Gospel: Luke 2:1-20

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

imgMerry Christmas! This time of the year reminds me of my childhood. It reminds me of all the wonderful memories that I have from seasons long past and from growing up in a warm and loving family during the holidays. It brings me back to a time in my life when I looked forward to so many exciting things during the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, and now, as a father, I get to share those same joys with my own children- decorating the Christmas tree with beautiful, colored lights and hand-made ornaments, putting up Christmas decorations outside and around the house, and getting to watch all of my favorite, must-see Christmas specials and movies on television.

At our first Theology Uncorked gathering back at the beginning of the month, I opened our conversation with a little icebreaker question. I asked the group, “What is your favorite or most unusual Christmas tradition?” We went around the table, introducing ourselves and answering the icebreaker question for the night. There were a lot of great answers. When it came time for me to answer the question, I said to the group, “My favorite tradition has to be watching ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ on television. To me, it just isn’t Christmas until I hear those beautiful, jazz arrangements of some of my favorite Christmas songs and watch the story unfold as Charlie Brown seeks to discover the true meaning of Christmas while he and his friends work to prepare for the local Christmas play.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is now over fifty years old, but it continues to be a meaningful tradition during the holidays for a lot people. At the beginning of the story, Charlie Brown tells his friends that he’s sad and depressed and that he just doesn’t understand the meaning of Christmas. He knows that the expectation for Christmastime is joy and happiness, but he also knows that there’s something more to Christmas than fancy decorations and extravagant gifts, the things in which all of his friends, including his pal, Snoopy, are most interested. Charlie Brown’s friends just don’t understand why he’s so upset. In fact, at one point, Linus says to him, “Charlie Brown, of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you are the ‘Charlie Browniest’.”

Later in the story, Charlie Brown and Linus are assigned the task of finding the perfect Christmas tree for the Christmas play. When they arrive at the Christmas tree lot, they’re overwhelmed with several bright and colorful choices, but ultimately, Charlie Brown chooses a sad, little evergreen with only a few needles hanging on the branches. Linus says to Charlie Brown, “I don’t know, Charlie Brown. It doesn’t seem to fit the modern spirit.” Charlie Brown replies, “We’ll decorate it, and it will be just right for our Christmas play. Besides, I think it needs me.” When Charlie Brown and Linus return to show their friends the new Christmas tree, Charlie Brown is teased and called names for doing something different. Instead of choosing the biggest and brightest tree, he chose the smallest and most vulnerable tree, the tree that no one else wanted, the tree that needed the most care. In that moment, after being ridiculed by his friends, Charlie Brown is ready to give up. Frustrated, he asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

His trusty friend, Linus, replies, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” Linus walks to the center of the stage. The lights in the auditorium dim, and under a single spotlight, he recites a portion of the Nativity story from the Gospel according to Luke, the same Gospel lesson that we heard just a few moments ago. Quoting from the King James version of the Bible, Linus says, “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.” After his monologue, Linus walks back over to his friend and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

You may not know this, but the decision to include this scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was pretty controversial when it was written back in 1965. The producers of the special suggested that it was too religious for national television, but Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, insisted that it be included. In an early conversation about the scene, the producers told Schulz, “It’s very dangerous for us to start talking about religion now.” Schulz responded to them, “If we don’t, who will?”

I think this is why “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is my all-time favorite- because it’s a little dangerous. It takes risks and refuses to “play it safe” at a time when it would be much easier to simply tell a sweet, innocent Christmas story with no mention of Jesus whatsoever. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is bold and unexpected with its proclamation of the Gospel. While Charlie Brown and most of his friends are worried about things like presents and putting on the perfect Christmas play and finding the perfect Christmas tree, the character of Linus once again reminds of why we celebrate this day in the first place. You might say that, through Linus, Jesus breaks into the story unexpectedly, similar to how he breaks into our own story of salvation- unexpectedly, being born of a human mother and living as one of us, fragile and vulnerable.

The story of Jesus’ birth is about God breaking into our story at a particular time and place in history in order to redeem us and lead us to the truth so that we may live the full and joyful lives that God intends for us. It’s about God’s unending love for us and our call, as Christians, to share that love with the world. It’s a timeless story that’s been handed down for generations and one that continues with you and me, as members of the Body of Christ. So, as our celebration of Christmas continues, dear friends, let us remember that, like Mary, we are called by God to carry Jesus with us and to be bearers of the Good News. Let us remember that we are the hands and feet of Christ and that, through us, Jesus continues to be born and made known to the world. Love itself has broken into our story so that we may learn a new way to live and serve as a beacon of light to others. In the words of Charles Schulz, “If we don’t, who will?” Amen.

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