Fr. Bill Carroll – Christmas Eve, December 24, 2022
To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
At our Bible study this week, we got to talking about our favorite Christmas movies. People mentioned a few different ones. They included “Miracle on 34th Street,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and even “Elf,” to name just a few. But the one that stuck out for me is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
As some of you know, I grew up in an unchurched family. And this amazing, animated special was one of the few ways that I heard the Christmas story as a child. Beginning in 1965, it was on network television every year. In preparation for tonight, I watched several clips on YouTube. And I was surprised at how much of it I still know by heart.
If your kids or your grandkids haven’t seen it yet—or if you think you’ve outgrown it, or just haven’t seen it for a while—I recommend it to you as part of your Christmas celebrations. It is one of the most powerful presentations of the Gospel that I know.
The story opens with Charlie Brown complaining to Linus. “There must be something wrong with me,” he says. “Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all, but I’m still not happy.”
Later, Charlie turns to Lucy for therapy. She counts the nickels jangling in her cash box, and then he tells her the same sad story. Her advice is that he needs more “Christmas spirit.” And so, she enlists his help directing the Christmas play. She goes on to tell him that she understands why he gets so depressed. In a failure of empathy, she notes that she never gets what she wants for Christmas either.
Later on, Charlie Brown helps his little sister, Sally, to write a letter to Santa. It’s a funny letter—but also really sad: “Please note the size and color of each item,” she dictates, “and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: Just send money.” Her attitude only deepens his depression.
Predictably, when they start to rehearse the play, Lucy takes over as the director. With Linus, Charlie Brown goes off in search of a Christmas tree. And he falls in love with a poor, little tree—with few branches or needles. “We’ll decorate it,” he says, “and it’ll be just right for our play. Besides, I think it needs me.” But, when he comes back to the auditorium, all the children start to ridicule him:
- “Boy, are you stupid, Charlie Brown.”
- “What kind of a tree is that?”
- “You were supposed to get a good tree. Can’t you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?”
- “You’re hopeless, Charlie Brown. Completely hopeless.”
With these words, we see three little girls, laughing at Charlie Brown. And then, they are joined by Snoopy. Even his own dog is laughing at his poor, little tree.
Now, at first, Charlie agrees with his critics and hangs his head in shame: “Everything I do turns into a disaster,” he says. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” But then, in the show’s climactic moment, Linus says, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” Linus calls for the lights. Then, he starts to retell the story we just heard, from the Gospel according to Luke:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field (he says), 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 tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, 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, goodwill toward men.”
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Tonight, beloved, we hear the same Good News. Tonight, we sing God’s new song. Tonight, the earth “trembles” and the trees of the wood “shout for joy.” For the love of Jesus Christ has overcome the long, cold winter of the human race.
With the shepherds, we too are summoned to his cradle. We too draw strength from the angels’ message of joy. And now, at last, we see Jesus with our eyes. Here he is, the Son of God, “poor and in a manger.”
In him, heaven and earth are joined together. In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh. We can see how he clings to his Mother, with hunger, thirst, and love. Jesus is our hope. He is the one who overcomes our shame and contempt for one another.
In the world’s eyes, like that poor, little tree in the story, Jesus is nothing much to look at. As the prophet Isaiah once said, “He has no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” And, as the apostle Paul once said, “Though he was in the form of God, he humbled himself and took on the form of a slave.”
In Jesus, the Almighty shares our weakness, the Word of God becomes speechless, and our Lord and Savior looks up at us with the brand new eyes of a child. Tonight, we see the humility, and the humanity, of our God. In Jesus, we know God’s mercy and love. We know it in an intimate, personal way. We know it in our bones.
That’s why we have come here tonight. That’s why, with pilgrims from around the world, we too have come to Bethlehem. We have come to behold him. We have come to worship and adore him. We have come to look into his face—and be changed by what we see there.
For the grace of God (the grace of God) has appeared in our flesh—bringing salvation to us all.