by Rick Jones, Husband of the Pastor's Wife
with gratitude to Drs. Luke and Seuss, and Charles Schulz
I'm taking a break from the silly side of things this Christmas day. Today's article is based on a devotional lesson I presented at a recent church Christmas party. The usual silliness will resume Tuesday, December 29th, with a guest writer, and I have resolved to return to my duties on Friday, January 1st.
Television provides plenty of Christmas-themed fare, including enough adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” to fill an entire day. Many people have a favorite show, one which must be viewed annually for the holiday to seem complete. Tied for the top spot for me are the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which has just reached its 50th anniversary, and Dr Seuss's “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” cartoon, which debuted a year after the Peanuts gang's show, in 1966.
Both stories deal with the essence of Christmas.
The Grinch ultimately fails [SPOILER ALERT] because of his belief that at the heart of the holiday was presents, decorations, and food. Having removed these items from Whoville, he was certain that the Whos would mourn with great weeping. Instead, he heard them “singing – without any presents at all.” The Whos rejected the Grinchy analysis shared by many people in our society today. Material goods were incidental; more valued were relationships: “Christmastime is in our grasp / As long as we have hands to clasp. Christmastime will always be / Just as long as we have we.” The heart of the matter, we are taught, is a matter of the heart: appreciation of family and friends.
That sentiment, pure and potent, [SPOILER ALERT] works its transforming power on the heart of the Grinch. But it's just not true.
People who trade materialistic hedonism [boxes and bags, tinsel and toys] for neighborly love [“we have we”] have turned from the bad to the good. But if friends and fellowship are how they define the essence of Christmas, they have, in embracing the good, lost sight of the best.
Charlie Brown knows this. His Christmas experience begins where the Grinch's ends. The Peanuts gang have camaraderie already, which was amply demonstrated for thirteen years before the Christmas special. But that didn't define Christmas well enough for Charlie Brown, who is frustrated in his quest for the meaning of the holiday until Linus van Pelt literally takes center stage and quotes seven verses from The Gospel According to Luke [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 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.
He adds just one simple comment: “That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Gifts are a nice part of our Christmas traditions. Good times with loved ones are better. But the birth of Christ is not only best, it is essential, for it is truly what Christmas is all about. And while we usually cite Matthew and Luke concerning the birth of the Messiah, there's a very familiar verse from John's Gospel which brings together Jesus and gift-giving and love:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [John 3:16]
Jesus is truly the Reason for the season which is commonly celebrated by manifesting love through giving.
Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift. [II Corinthians 9:15]