On Christmas, it was my joy and delight to preach about Peanuts.
I talked about a moment in the animated classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, 50 years old this year. In that film, when asked about the meaning of Christmas, Linus in full lisp recites the story as told by St. Luke. He moves to spot-lit center stage and launches into the gospel many of us heard at Christmas services. When he comes to the part where angels appear to the shepherds and, in the artful phrasing of King James, the shepherds are sore afraid, something interesting happens.
Linus drops his blanket. That doesn’t happen often in Schulz’s work. Maybe never, apart from this one moment. Linus soon picks the blanket up again, but for that moment, the proclamation of good news gave freedom from his fears. And since Charles Schulz was not only gifted cartoonist but also insightful theologian, it’s worth paying attention to that detail. In my office/studio, I have framed a quote offered by Charles Schulz, who said: “Cartooning is preaching. And I think we have a right to do some preaching. I hate shallow humor. I hate shallow religious humor. I hate shallowness of any kind.”
I may be straining for homiletic point, but the timing of the dropping of the blanket is key, and anything but shallow. The announcement of the good news of Christmas gives a way to counter fears, allowing for the release of those things we use to fend off fears, our own versions of Linus’ security blanket.
Perhaps more than in other years, the message of Christmas seems to speak to the fears we bring, the hunger for security. Mindful of this season marked by heightened anxiety, I’ve been humming the Advent hymn because of this text:
So when next he comes with glory and the world is wrapped in fear, may he with his mercy shield us and with words of love draw near. (Hark a thrilling voice is sounding, stanza 3).
These days, our world seems pretty well wrapped in fears, with the help of 24/7 news cycle and political candidates making points by scaring us and of course that reminder every time we fly to take off our shoes lest someone blow up the plane with their loafers. Fear is in the air.
The good news of Christmas, as so memorably recited by Linus, is that love breaks into that fearful atmosphere, in keeping with the New Testament affirmation that perfect love casts out fear. So as the new year begins, pay attention to the fears wrapped around you. They may be global concerns. Fear of the future. Fear for safety. Fears that the familiar fades away. They may have a more individual character. Fear that we won’t measure up. Fear that relationships won’t survive. Fear that there won’t be enough. Pay attention to the security blankets we count on. What are you holding onto to help you navigate the fears? Is it up to the task?
And then celebrate the good news that love came down at Christmas, as Christine Rossetti wrote in the poem below. Experiment with this premise, this promise that love casts out fear.
And since Christmas is a season and not just one day, let me extend to readers of this weekly message my prayers, my hopes for a merry Christmas, for joy in this season and blessings in the coming year.
Love Came Down at ChristmasLove came down at Christmas,Love all lovely, love divine;Love was born at Christmas,Star and angels gave the sign.Worship we the Godhead,Love incarnate, love divine;Worship we our Jesus:But wherewith for sacred sign?Love shall be our token,Love shall be yours and love be mine,Love to God and to all men,Love for plea and gift and sign.