Ah, Christmastime. The season of joy, goodwill, and cheer. For some, it’s strained family relations, broken promises, and the tyranny of perfect gift giving. For most, Christmastime is an emotionally complicated mish mash of all the above, both good and bad.
This year, I’m not stressing the holiday blues and I have Charlie Brown to thank.
Last year, Matt Schneider wrote a great piece worth highlighting again on the theological implications of the beloved Charlie Brown Christmas special (available to watch on Hulu!). One doesn’t ordinarily equate deep theological truths with cartoons, but, well, this is Mockingbird after all. To me, a Charlie Brown Christmas is about grace and hope coming out of nowhere, and upsetting the normal trajectory of everyday angst-y-ness. Among the religiously tinged Christmas specials, this is what sets the Charlie Brown Christmas Special apart from all the others, like, for example, The Little Drummer Boy (1969), which maintains a pure, intuitive works-based religion (and, it’s probably a little neurotic on my part, but I always have to do spiritual damage control with my two little girls every time we watch it).
For those unfamiliar with the storyline, an orphaned drummer boy filled with hate for all mankind is forever changed when he bumps into three wise men in the desert on the road to Bethlehem.
In the closing scene, the town’s people are gathered around a stable to behold the Newborn King. People are crowding the streets and the Little Drummer Boy’s beloved pet lamb is made into road kill by a maniacal chariot driver who comes out of nowhere. Desperate for help, the Drummer Boy tracks down a wise king in the crowd and asks for help. Regretfully, the king doesn’t have any road kill reversing magic up his tunic sleeve. So he encourages the drummer boy to go to the radio active glowing baby Jesus for help. With pockets empty, and no gift to bring, the Drummer Boy reluctantly goes to the babe and plays his drum and…shazaam! His lamb recovers!
Says the king:
“Your gift, drummer boy, given out of a simple desperation of a pure love, is the one favored above all”.
The big take away? Do your best, and God does the rest. God will meet you half way, but you’re going to have to take the initiative and find hope from within. Put it in fancy schmancy theological terms and the entire anthropology of the show is a theology of glory. As if you needed more stick-and-carrot spirituality for the Christmas season, eh?
The Charlie Brown Christmas special however, is real to life in its anthropology and is therefore more meaningful–and hopeful. Leading up to the pivotal scene where Charlie’s trusty sidekick Linus recites the King James version of the Lukan nativity, the universe seem to be utterly against Charlie Brown. He’s been made the director of the Christmas play, and yet the entire cast turns against him, and ridicules him for being a hopeless blockhead. Notice that after Linus pronounces that a savior has been born, and that God’s disposition is peace and goodwill toward men, all of Charlie’s antagonists shut up, and there’s hardly any dialog toward the end of the show. This is what grace does. It disrupts the normal course of everyday angsty-ness and all we can say is “huh, that’s a pleasant surprise. Thank you”.
If we, in all our Charlie Brown-ishness have any hope, it’s not a hope that’s going to come from within to muster up a better quality of faith that we don’t posses. No, we need something outside ourselves to upset the trajectory of our everyday angstyness. We need an object of faith who actually does something for us. We need a savior, not a little more effort, or an attitude change.
I like Christmastime, and all the traditional fun that goes with it. The fun, food, family, gift-giving and all that. Really, I do. But I suspect there are a few others out there like myself that feel a skosh of the pressures created by social dynamics and expectations. You don’t have it within yourself to be nice to that uncle. You’re likely not going to hit the gift-giving target for your passive aggressive aunt. Maybe you’re just not feeling the magic of the season this year. And there’s always the possibility you might do something legitimately blockheaded this Christmas season. We just don’t always have it within ourselves to rise above it all. Do yourself a favor and ditch Little Drummer Boy religion this season, and party with Charlie.
I mean, just listen to the sound of Linus’ sweet voice–and I swear I’m nearly brought to tears each time I hear this: “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”.