Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Linus: The Rest of the Story

The previous blog entry mentioned a very special long-running holiday program. It was all about the 50th anniversary of the beloved "A Charlie Brown Christmas". The unique program, written by Charles Schultz, has graced TVs across the nation as far back as many of us can remember. Along with one or two other programs, it would just not seem like the season was really upon us without watching the adorable cartoon characters do their thing each year. It is simply a cultural institution at the time when we celebrate the Incarnation every year.

There are many memorable moments in the program, and each will have his or her own personal favorite. The premise of the story finds Charlie Brown struggling mightily with confusion and discouragement over what the season is all about. He just cannot grasp it all, especially the jaded and materialistic attitudes he sees all about him. And in real life, there are some who experience their own difficulties at this season that is widely known as the most wonderful time of the year.

But for many longtime fans of the show, the highlight comes near the conclusion of the 25-minute animated classic. This is when Charlie can no longer contain himself and cries out in a desperate voice, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Immediately, little Linus turns to his distraught friend and says, “Sure Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”  He then slowly walks a few steps and says, “Lights, please”. And clutching his little blue security blanket, an item he was known for having with him at all times, he begins quoting from Luke chapter 2.

Starting with the 8th verse he declares, “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.”

But then upon reaching verse 10, Linus does something that is hardly noticed and yet highly significant. It happens when he quotes the angel’s words, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” The next verse, of course, speaks to the manger birth of a Savior in the city of David.

These are all familiar words to any who have watched the show for any length of time. Most can repeat them from memory. But what has slipped by so many of us is what Linus does at the exact instant the words "Fear not" exit his lips. He intentionally drops his sacred cloth companion to the stage floor and finishes the Scripture passage. He then turns, walks back to his friend’s side, and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

This specific part of the scene had to be intentionally scripted. What Linus did by tossing his blanket aside was no accident. Although easily overlooked, the letting go of his precious and protective companion was no oversight. Christian writer Charles Schultz was telling viewers to stop living in a state of fear and panic. Do not worry over danger, disappointment, the unknown and temporal things. Perhaps he was thinking of Christ's words in Matthew 6:31-33 as he wrote his classic. "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. “

And perhaps his main point of the discarded blanket was to reveal that the birth of the babe in that manger meant that sinful man could now "fear not" about someday standing before a holy God. His thrust was about  a Savior who was born in order to die for the forgiveness of sin – our sin. And perhaps it was no accident either that the Christmas hymn that closed the show – one considered as the greatest of them all – summarized best what Christmas is really all about to Charlie Brown and to every one of us.

“Hark the herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled"

“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."  (Matthew 1:21)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown

Almost everyone is familiar with the classic seasonal program, "A Charlie Brown Christmas". The beloved animated show has been a favorite seemingly forever and never seems to get old despite its age. This year marks the 50th anniversary since Charles Schultz’s adorable characters entered the homes of millions across the land. I’m trying to think if a holiday ever went by that I did not see at least some portion of the program since its inception?

But those who know it well recall the theme as being quite basic – and yet very profound. Sad little Charlie Brown is struggling at Christmas time. He is frustrated and depressed that Christmas is seemingly but one big commercial venture and cannot quite grasp what it is all about. This plot makes for an entertaining show, but it also reveals how so many really do feel over the holidays. I did a quick search online and typed in the phrase "depression at Christmas". These were just a few the top article titles that appeared. And some of these were from significant sources like CNN,  Psychology Today, WebMD and Huffington Post.

Christmas Depression - Does Christmas Get You Down?
Why People Get Depressed at Christmas
Coping with Depression During the Holidays
Hurting Over the Holidays...Christmas Depression or Joy?
6 causes of Christmas stress and depression
A depressive's guide to Christmas
Holiday Depression: Statistics & How to Deal

Fictitious Charlie Brown felt like millions of real people today who may be down around Christmas. And who can forget when his level of frustration came to a head on the small stage where he was trying to direct a rather distracted and oblivious cast of child actors and musicians?  It is then that he loses control and yells out his painful and famous question. "Does anyone really know what Christmas is all about?"
And in response, little Linus positions himself alone on the stage, calls for a spotlight, and calmly quotes from Luke 2:8-14:

"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 tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, 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 and goodwill towards men."

Linus then ends his memorized quotation of Scripture by telling his friend, and much of the world now for some 50 years, “That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown

has come a long way in just one half century. Much of it is good, and some of it is not. On the negative side of the ledger is a huge and growing lack of Biblical knowledge and spiritual grounding. Some call modern America a post-Christian nation, and with good reason! And if culture back in the time when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" entered the scene needed to hear the news about the Savior’s birth, then how much more is that message needed today?

Yes, this short passage of Scripture, which the sponsors wanted removed because it was too religious, shares the true meaning of Christmas. It is about a Savior and the message of redemption for a lost and hurting world. And that why my favorite seasonal song is titled "Just a Cradle in the Shadow of a Cross". Christ came and lived in order to die! As Mark 10:45 puts it, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Happy anniversary, Charlie Brown. Thank you, and thank you Linus, for showing the masses the significance and priority of the incarnation. And thank you Jesus for coming to into a sin-cursed world so long ago in order to be  Immanuel – God with us!

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us.”
(Matthew 1:23)

Bill Breckenridge