A Charlie Brown Christmas Sermon
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I also discovered that it was something of a status symbol for families to get their kids into the pageants. I knew a lady who had been Mary in the pageant at our church with her baby daughter standing in for Jesus. The last year I was at the church, her grown daughter was Mary and her grandson was Jesus.
They were quite proud of the legacy.
Parents lobbied hard for their kids to be involved in these pageants, which were conducted with a great deal of solemnity and pomp.
But there was always at least one little shepherd who would do something crazy in the middle of the thing to mess it all up---like burp, drop his shepherds crook a hundred times or break wind. And then the organizers and director would be filled with anxiety---which is to say they were filled with rage and red-faced.
Inevitably, the kid's mother would end up giving him the death look from across the room, and he would spend the rest of the pageant looking like he'd been shot instead of rejoicing at the birth of Jesus.
And guess what kinds of things that people usually remembered about those pageants? Not the stuff that went right, you can be sure.
Read Luke 2:1-20
The story of Jesus' birth is the story of humble beginnings.
It's a story of misfits. You have Joseph, who married a girl who had gotten knocked up out of wedlock. They were basically homeless in Bethlehem that night, to boot. You have a bunch of shepherds--dirty, uncouth fellows who wouldn't be welcome in any decent home.
It's a story of things that don't look cool in a pageant. There was no stable made of newly hewn wood. It was probably a cave carved into the side of a hill. The manger was a big rock with a trough carved in it. And let's be honest, none of this happened in the bleak December...
Which brings me to "A Charlie Brown Christmas"
When A Charlie Brown Christmas was screened to the CBS network executives in 1965 it almost didn't see the light of day. After it was over, they were all silent. Like an awkward, "we hated that" kind of silence. One of the animators had been drinking and he stood up and pronounced, "I don't care what you guys think, this show will be around a hundred years from now!"
The show gained a 50 share when it aired. That means that half of the people who owned TVs in 1965 were watching it.
Even now, with more than just three networks to choose from, it still gains an 11 share or better. The show won an Emmy and a Peabody award. It was also the first show of its kind to be voiced entirely by children.
And it's only got 64 years to go to make it 100 years.
Oh, and right in the middle of the show there is a soliloquy by Linus where he basically quotes a big chunk of Luke 2.
The basic story line is a classic Peanuts story. Charlie Brown is disillusioned by the way that Christmas has become commercialized. In order to cheer him, the gang lets him be the director of their Christmas pageant. When he and Linus are sent out to find a Christmas tree for the pageant, they return with the worst looking tree ever. Even though the tree needed Charlie Brown, buying it got him criticized and ridiculed. The gang feels bad and transforms the tree into something beautiful after Linus quotes from Luke and reveals the true meaning of Christmas.
Charlie Brown's dilemma is a familiar one: humble beginnings, misfits and all of the wrong elements for a pageant.
We love stories like this, which is why it has endured. Just like the story of the 1st Christmas.
So why do we keep trying to make that story perfect with our pageants and our programs. Why do we fret so much with it being "right?"
Because we long for the wonder that comes from the weak being favored over the strong. We long for brokenness that is made whole. We want to believe that the bad guys don't get to win.
But it wasn't perfect. And that's okay. It needs to be imperfect. If Jesus had been born in a palace, it wouldn't have that sense of "us." Most of us aren't anything special. We need to know that someone thinks otherwise.
I think that this is our story and Jesus keeps showing up in it.
He shows up as the hungry man begging for food.
He shows up as the child no one wants.
He shows up as the single, teenaged mom with no options and no future.
He shows up as the family member we need to forgive.
He shows up as the family I encountered a few Christmas Eves ago outside of my housing development. They were digging through a dumpster from a construction site--salvaging things that might have been valuable.
And that whole day I had been worried about our worship service that night, and how we were going to distribute candles and keep everything on time and make it all inspirational.
I wanted it perfect.
But then I saw Jesus digging in a dumpster. And I knew that my worry over perfection was absolutely misguided and foolish.
Its not perfect, but it has a perfect ending. And that perfect ending is what saves, redeems, transforms and resurrects everything in Creation.