Christmas Eve 2013 Fr. Ray Kasch St. Patrick’s Anglican Church
Lessons Is 9:2-7 Titus 2:11-14 St. Luke 2:1-20
I love the hymns and carols of Christmas and I am grateful that as Anglicans we sing them throughout the entire Christmas season up until Epiphany. When you add on our world famous one rehearsal Epiphany pageant, we extend their season even longer. But there also a song, that as soon as I hear it, I know it is Christmas. I’ve asked Kirk to play a few bars for you.
Yes that is a song named Linus and Lucy and it come from the The Charlie Brown Christmas, a show that I imagine most if not all of us have seen. I bring that show up because it gives us a message that we need to hear every year, but first let me tell you about what a little miracle that show is in itself.
A producer got a call from an ad agency in New York that said that Coke Cola wanted to sponsor a Christmas special. They asked if the producer had one. He lied and told them “yes” and then he pulled together Charles Schultz, the creator of the comic strip Peanuts, and an animator and on a Thursday afternoon they came up with the idea of The Charlie Brown Christmas. The Coke Cola people loved the idea but then that gave them only 6 months to come up with the finished product and none of them had ever done a cartoon special before! They had to come up with the voices, hire the actors, create the animation, compose the music, all of it.
Schultz who was a Christian, wanted to have Linus read from the Bible and everyone thought it was a terrible idea. Some even said it was not right to have something so sacred in a crass comic. Well, not only did Schultz not think that his comic was crass, but he argued that the Bible was not just for Church or the priesthood but it was for everyone. If they did not do it, who would? So they had Linus recite from the Gospel of St. Luke to explain what Christmas was all about and I believe that it is the Word of the Lord coming to us through the mouth of a child that makes this animated special so endearing to all generations.
When they finished the project the men who worked on it were disappointed. They thought it was too slow and the network execs didn’t like it either. But they were committed to play it once and they thought that was all of the air time that it would ever receive. To their amazement, it received a 49% share, which meant that half of the TV’s in America had tuned it in. It became the highest rated Christmas special and the most rerun show in the history of TV. It has aired every year since. Its message is universal and it strikes a cord deep within all kinds of people. God’s truth can be told in many different ways. Following the Bible, it includes the timeless themes of the condition of man, the false hope of the world and the gift of God.
Charlie Brown is worried because even though it is Christmas he feels sad. Linus tells Charlie Brown that of all the Charlie Browns in the world he is the Charlie Browniest. And while he is, there is a little Charlie Brown in us all. Our reading tonight from the Prophet Isaiah tells us why. Isaiah describes us as a people who walk in great darkness and therefore we are need of the intervention of God. As children of the Enlightenment we may resent such an expression but resenting it does not make it untrue. There is plenty of darkness all around us.
Charlie Brown says that while he likes getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating, but he ends up getting depressed. And isn’t that a snapshot of so many lives? We go through life looking for the next thing that will make us happy. If we will just finish that degree, or find the right person or land the right job, then we will at peace with the world. And for a moment those things do offer us a measure of joy. But if that is all we have, if we continue to walk in darkness, then we will likely end up getting depressed like Charlie Brown.
Often when we walk in darkness we look for things to add to our lives to make the darkness acceptable. But Isaiah is telling us that we do not need to add things to our lives, rather we need things removed. In Isaiah’s language what needs to be removed is the yoke of our burden, the bar across our shoulders, the rod of our oppressor. In New Testament language they are the world, the flesh and the devil. As we just heard from St. Paul to Titus, we are to be trained to renounce impiety and worldly passions, to remove them from our lives. But how, how are we freed from these things?
Charlie Brown saw through one false hope. He knew that the answer was not materialism. He saw the bankruptcy of commercialism as it distracted people from the real purpose of Christmas.
Given that stores are now putting out Christmas items at the same time that they are preparing for Halloween, I don’t think we have learned that lesson very well. Our culture is Snoopy decorating our doghouses in hopes of winning the cash prize. We are Lucy who said that she never gets what she wants because she always gets clothes and bikes and toys. When asked what she DID want she said. “real estate.” We are Sally who asked Santa for $10’s and $20’s and when Charlie Brown reacted she said, “All I want is what’s coming to me. I want my fair share.” Remember this was written in 1965. How far have we come?
No Charlie Brown saw past all of that but he did fall for Lucy’s suggestion to get into the Christmas spirit. She said, “You need involvement.” And so she talked him into directing the Christmas play that ended up completely falling apart at the rehearsal.
If you hang around long enough you will eventually learn that adding new stuff does not enrich your life. But it is all too easy, especially as you watch the grains of sand rush through the hour glass, to think that if you get involved, if you just get a little more busy, then your life will take on the meaning that you seek. We don’t intend it to be, in fact we renounce this theology, but in the end we try to save ourselves by our own works. If idleness is the devil’s playground then business must be the courts of heaven. Right? Wrong!
As his involvement leads to even deeper frustration, Charlie Brown cries out in despair, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” To which Linus answers, “I do” and he quietly goes to the center of the stage, asks for the light to be put on him and he 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’….that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”
Charlie Brown then takes his pitiful little Christmas tree into the night, his friends follow and decorate it for him and it ends with all of them singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” It was the story of the Savior’s birth that put things in his life into proper perspective that night. Someone needed to herald the truth to Charlie Brown just as the angels were the heralds of truth to the shepherds and someone in your life was a herald of truth to you. We need to keep that going. “If we don’t do it, who will?”
If you have been raised in the Church or been a Christian for a long time it is easy to forget that there are a lot of Charlie Browns out there. They may have avoided the snares of materialism and at least they know that they don’t know, but they are nevertheless wondering if there are any answers. With the message of the Savior’s birth you can assure them that there are.
First of course you must know the answer for yourself. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, as Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” To me the key phrase here is “unto you.” Now to be accurate this is written in the second person plural, so if St. Luke had written this in the south of Israel the angel would have said, “unto all y’all.”
But we must be careful not to see Him as a generic gift offered to everyone and therefore to no one in particular. To be a herald of the truth you must know that God not only loves the world but that He loves you. After all, “Unto all y’all” includes unto you and unto you and unto you and unto me. That is why sometimes St. Paul called it “MY Gospel.” It is why we have the privilege of praying “OUR Father.” The gift is for each of us.
To be a herald of the truth we also must tell the whole truth. Unto us is born in the city of David whom? A Savior. We need more than just having the right feeling about Christmas. We need salvation, we need a Savior.
Please look at the Processional Hymn in your bulletin on page 19. “Joy to the World.” You will notice an asterisk on verse three. Often the asterisk is added to particularly long hymns so that you can shorten them without doing the hymn injustice. But this is not a long hymn so why are we being given permission to skip verse 3? Because while we love to sing about every heart preparing Him room and rocks, hills and plains which repeat the sounding joy, we don’t like talking about sin and sorrow and thorns infesting the ground as far as the curse is found.
But if we don’t tell the full story then we don’t understand the joy that is being offered to the world. If you were my lawyer and you got me out of a parking ticket I may like you a little but if you got me off of death row, I would love you forever. The people who walked in darkness needed a Savior and that is exactly what we got and that is why there is joy in the world. He has saved us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray and so as heralds of the truth we have tidings of comfort and joy. And that is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. Merry Christmas