A Sermon preached on Christmas Day, December 25, 2019 by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector.
A little over 50 years ago, A Peanuts Christmas aired for the first time and 15,490,000, people watched it, placing it at number two in the ratings, behind Bonanza. In those days way before streaming and even before the VCR, a Peanuts Christmas was one of those shows, like the Wizard of Oz that I only saw once a year, and it became iconic in my memory. There was a long franchise of Peanuts holiday specials that followed, but they were more generic cartoons with laugh tracks. The Peanuts Christmas is special, because it contains something special: the Gospel of Luke.
At the beginning of the show Charlie Brown says to Linus, “I don’t understand Christmas. I feel depressed,” while The Peanuts gang ice-skates on a frozen lake to the cascading jazz piano of Vince Guaraldi, The combination of sadness and celebration is familiar; many of us can identify with Charlie Brown’s holiday funk. We want to feel merry but the high expectations of the season, in the midst of the troubles of our world, and the concerns of our own lives, can leave us alienated, and sad.
The conflict between Charlie Brown and the rest of the characters continues to build. He goes to see Lucy in her psychiatrist booth for help with his holiday blues, and she makes a joke about how she loves the sound of “cold, hard cash,” when Charlie Brown’s nickel echoes in her cash box. Charlie Brown transcribes Sally’s letter to Santa, including her comment that, “if it’s too much trouble to get the right sizes and colors, Santa, just send cash,” and Charlie Brown says, “Good Grief!”
When Charlie Brown gets ready to direct the Christmas Play, Snoopy and the dancing kids ignore him. So Charlie Brown and Linus go out to buy a Christmas Tree. Lucy yells, “Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find. Yeah, we’ll paint it pink!”
Charlie Brown is seeking something deeper than commercial Christmas. He finds the smallest, homeliest little tree on the lot. The needles fall off every time he touches it. He says, “This little green one seems to need a home. I think it needs me.”
Of course, the cool kids hate the little tree, and Charlie Brown cries out, “Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about. Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Linus, of all people, steps up and says, “I know what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Linus walks out onto the stage, calls for the lighting tech to lower the house lights and turn on a spotlight. There on the empty stage he recites our Christmas story from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke.
Linus’ blanket was a defining part of his character. He carried it everywhere, including out onto the stage and into the spotlight. They next time you watch A Peanuts Christmas, I invite you to watch Linus closely as he recites the Christmas story, and you may notice something.
Linus really gets into telling the story. His face lights up especially when the says, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
At that moment, Linus holds both his hands together in an expression of joy, and he drops his blanket on the floor of the stage.
Linus dropping his blanket is a little thing, but it’s unprecedented in Peanuts. Remember how in the comic strip, Snoopy would dash around pulling Linus at top speed, and Charles Schultz drew Linus as an almost horizontal blur, clutching his blanket? And if you have ever known a small child with a security blanket you know how tightly they clutch it around themselves. Don’t even try to pry it away from them.
Ever year since I watch a Peanuts Christmas and it’s always marked a moment when Christmas arrives in some genuine way for me. But until recently I never really noticed how Linus drops his blanket in that moment of joy. I think it’s profound. It’s the moment when Linus receives the Good News of Jesus’ birth, and it overcomes his insecurities. For a moment, he sees the world with joy, and his fears drop away with his blanket.
This morning, I stand here longing to enter 2020 with an attitude of joy, like Linus. I want to drop my security blanket and see the world without fear; I want to hear the angels’ message of “Fear not!” and believe it. I wonder what fears you can let go of this Christmas?
That is why we gather today: to experience something more powerful than Santa Claus and presents. We gather to celebrate God’s presence with us. We gather to celebrate Jesus coming into our hearts.
After Linus recites the Gospel, Charlie Brown takes the vulnerable little tree, so much like the baby Jesus, out into the starry night. He’s filled with wonder. And yet when he tries to decorate the tree, it falls over under the weight of the ornament, and he thinks he’s killed it.
I think that our understanding of the God’s love for us is as fragile as the Little Tree. God’s love can be as overwhelming in its beauty as that heavy ornament. The gift of Jesus is all grace. It is a lot to take in. We need to ponder it in our own hearts, under the starry night, like Charlie Brown, and like him, we can feel unequal to the task of responding to that kind of love on our own.
That’s where a faith community helps us unwrap the gift of Christ and share it with the world, throughout the year.
In the final scene, we see how the Gospel message changes the kids, and it can change us. Instead of bullying Charlie Brown, they quietly work together to decorate his delicate little tree so that it glows with lights. Once again, Linus loosens his grip on his precious blanket and wraps it around the base of the little tree to keep it warm. Ministering to Charlie Brown is something they do in community, together.
May the unexpected joy of Christ’s birth enter your heart today and show you God’s love. May the power of the Gospel move you to drop your blanket, and experience a world without fear and be filled with grace. May you grow to love others as God loves us. Merry Christmas! Amen.