What’s your favourite Christmas movie?
I love to watch The Polar Express, and I’ve just finished binge-watching the new Netflix series Dash & Lily but, truth be told, my absolute favourite Christmas movie is A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I was already a committed Peanuts fan when the movie came out in 1965. I would grab the newspaper each day and delight in the wisdom of Charles M. Schultz shared through his Peanuts characters. It was no surprise then that A Charlie Brown Christmas leapt to the top of my list when I saw it for the very first time. It has consistently remained there ever since I lay down on the living room floor in my pyjamas that first time and became mesmerized by the story shared so many years ago.
Won’t you watch it with me again.
Our movie opens with the Peanuts characters skating on the pond in a winter wonderland of snow and scarfs. Vince Guaraldi’s amazing jazz soundtrack accompanies the cast as they sing, “Christmas time is here. Happiness and cheer. Fun for all that children call their favourite time of year.” It’s perfect!
Sadly, it is not perfect for Charlie Brown.
He and Linus enter the scene with Charlie Brown pondering, “There must be something wrong with me Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas I guess.” With these words we know what this story is going to be about.
What if we’re not happy at Christmas? Is there something wrong with us? What is it we’re just not getting?
I think Charlie Brown’s feelings about Christmas resonate with us all at some time in our lives, and perhaps this year more than any other. This year we are grieving; we grieve the loss of loved ones to this pandemic, the inability to gather in our churches and worship the way we have in the past, and the loss of family celebrations and friendship circles. How do we understand Christmas this year? Where do we find hope and joy this year?
Linus responds to Charlie Brown’s musings from his persistent place of positivity, “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.” I don’t think Linus really helped in this situation.
Lucy offers up an alternative solution to Charlie Brown’s lack of understanding.
“You need involvement!”
And so, Charlie Brown is made the director of the annual Christmas play. He takes on this task with the goal of success, but soon discovers he can’t control the cast who prefer dancing over rehearsing. Lucy takes over and assigns out the parts. Pigpen is assigned the role of the innkeeper and Linus lands the part of a shepherd. As Lucy hands her little brother his script, she demands that for once he get rid of his security blanket. Linus declines.
With nothing to do on set, Charlie Brown and Linus head out to find a suitable Christmas tree for their festivities. The two eventually return with a sad little tree instead of the bright shiny number the cast requested. Mocked for his choice, Charlie Brown once again finds himself feeling like a failure. He shouts out in despair,
“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Linus responds with the answer he’s known all along.
“Sure Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”
And with this, Linus walks to centre stage. A solitary spotlight comes on to illuminate his words.
“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’.”
Let’s stop here for just a moment. With the words “Fear not,” Linus does something he’s never ever done before. He drops his security blanket beside him. His face begins to beam with joy as he continues with this passage from Luke, his blanket not too far away, but clearly not needed.
“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; You 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 2:8-14, KJV)
“Fear not” are the two words Charlie Brown most needs to hear in that moment. “Fear not” is what we all need to hear this Christmas. While we live in a place of worry, stress, loneliness and exhaustion this year, these words delivered by the angel of the Lord provide for us an alternative to despair. “Fear not: for I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people.” This is where our hope is to be found. This is where joy breaks in.
I find it fascinating that Charles Schultz chose this passage and not the more expected Luke 2:1-7.
Luke 2:1-7 is a statement of what happened; “and she gave birth to her firstborn son and laid him a manger.” Luke 2:8-14, the passage Shultz chooses, moves us to understand why it is happening; to bring joy and dispel fear!
Early in the show, Charlie Brown visits Lucy’s psychiatrist booth where the doctor is most definitely in. She takes Charlie Brown through a list of potential phobias, culminating in pantophobia.
“Do you think you have pantophobia,” she asks?
Charlie Brown replies, “What’s pantophobia?”
“The fear of everything!” she responds.
“That’s it!” he yells!
In this season of Advent, Linus tells us that Christ’s coming dispels fear, even the fear of everything. In this season, we give glory to God. Thanks be to God!