Fifty years ago this extremely important question was posed on national television: “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?” This question was asked by famous philosopher, and comic strip celebrity, Charlie Brown.
You see, Charlie Brown was fed up with the many unsuccessful pursuits of happiness he saw all around him, especially during Christmastime. His sister Sally wanted her “fair share” in the form of $10’s and $20’s. His friend Lucy attempted to find joy in her own vanity. Even his dog Snoopy tried to find pleasure by winning money in a Christmas lights and display contest. And all around him, friends as well as those who mocked him, pursued satisfaction in the form of material possessions, self-contentment, or both. The problem was, as Charlie Brown stated himself, “I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy.”
Apparently many people in the United States feel a lot like Charlie Brown. In a USA Today / Gallup poll Americans were asked if they celebrated Christmas, and how they celebrated Christmas. First of all, ninety-five percent polled said yes, they did celebrate Christmas. Ninety-five percent. To put that in comparison, 78% of Americans celebrate the 4th of July, 64% celebrate Halloween and Easter, and 62% celebrate Valentine’s Day. Christmas is obviously, by far, the most observed holiday in our country.
But how exactly do Americans celebrate Christmas? Like Charlie Brown and his friends. 97% of those who said they celebrate Christmas said they exchange gifts and get together with family or friends. Ninety-two percent put up a Christmas tree, and seventy-seven percent attend Christmas parties. This sounds like a very festive holiday, but is it helping to make the people of our country happier?
To find the answer to this question I “googled” the following three words: Is – depression - increasing? Listen to this sample of very similar headlines that I discovered:
- Bad News: Americans appear to be more depressed now than they have been in years
- Americans are more depressed now then they have been in decades
- Rates of depression and anxiety among American children and adolescents have been increasing steadily for the past fifty to seventy years
- The number of people diagnosed with depression has increased by 450% since 1987.
- At the rate of increase (depression) will be the 2nd most disabling condition in the world by 2020
Like Charlie Brown, our country has been getting and giving presents, sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and “all that,” but we’re still not happy. In fact, according to statistics, we’re less happy than ever.
There is no question that there has been a major shift in how our country is observing Christmas, and how the original reason for celebrating Christmas – to commemorate Jesus’ birth – is often being considered either outdated or too religious for our current culture. Even back in 1965, when the short animated feature “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was being made, producers and executives tried to cut out Linus’ true meaning of Christmas speech because the show had religious overtones and would scare off advertisers. Consider how much more now our world is trying to distance itself from referencing Christmas as a holiday about Jesus.
Could there be a connection between leaving Jesus out of our holidays and out of our everyday lives, to the growing sense of discouragement across our country and the world?
To answer that question we need to think about why Christmas is a holiday, whether people choose to observe its origin or not. Thankfully Charlie Brown had a friend named Linus (and a scriptwriter named Charles M. Schulz) who knew what Christmas is all about. To answer Charlie Brown’s question, Linus pointed out to his discouraged friend verses from the Bible, in the book of Luke, to answer Charlie Brown’s question – the ones about tons of angels appearing to shepherds, informing them that a Savior had been born in the City of David – the verses that were read here a few moments ago. But what does all that mean? Why are some shepherds, angels, and a baby lying in a manger so important?
Because of who that baby Jesus is, and what He means to all people, and can mean to you and me personally. When Jesus was born, this is who truly entered our world:
- a Wonderful Counselor
- a Prince of Peace
- a King of Kings
- a Lord of Lords
- God with Us
- a Savior, who is Christ the Lord
I know for some people, maybe some here tonight, Christmas can be an extremely difficult holiday to celebrate. And for some, Christmas is not a holiday to celebrate at all. Whether Christmas contradicts people’s religious beliefs or not, oftentimes those who do not celebrate Christmas are dealing with challenging life experiences and disheartening outlooks on life that makes it hard to see Christmas, or any other type of festivity, as worthwhile.
Many people are experiencing depression, right now. Many people are suffering with cancer, right now. Many people are mourning the devastating loss of a loved one, right now. Many people are deeply regretting poor decisions they have made, right now. Many people are wondering where their next meal is going to come from, right now. Many people are afraid of the condition our world is in, right now. So many people are not wondering, “What is Christmas all about?” Rather, they are wondering “Why celebrate Christmas at all?”
As a child I remember being bored to death of my father listening to talk radio, in the car, in his office, in the kitchen. However, I would listen when one man’s voice came onto the radio: Paul Harvey. This time of year I am reminded of one of Harvey’s stories that simply illustrated better than I ever could why you, or I, or anyone should consider recognizing Jesus as the true Savior of this world. Please listen carefully to this story:
The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man. “I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.
Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them…the way…to safety, warm…to the safe, warm barn. But…I would have to be one of them…so they could see…and hear…and understand.”
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – O Come All Ye Faithful – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.
And he sank to his knees in the snow.
Jesus is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. The Son of God, coming to earth to die on the cross so that we might all be saved from sin, fear, and death, is what Christmas is all about. Enjoy the presents, the good food, the company of your friends and family, your beautifully decorated tree, but then remember Jesus, allow Him to be your Counselor, your Peace, Your Savior, and be fully satisfied. He is the light that entered our world to save us from all of the darkness around us, for right now, and all eternity.