Examining Gifts: What is Christmas Really About?
- 2008 24 Dec
Some things are just natural Christmas gifts. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are the quintessential presents of Christmas time. Through the years, other items of value became commonplace around the Christmas tree. The gold became a ten dollar bonus from your boss; the frankincense turned into a bottle of aftershave for dad; and the myrrh became a jar of bath-oil-beads for mom. As Dennis the Menace said while holding up a new pair of play overalls, "Looks like another practical Christmas."
If I were honest, I'd have to admit that a Lionel train set was the most-frequently-wished-for-only-to-never-receive gift for me. I, too, became a prisoner of practical Christmas.
I remember one year being irreparably damaged by a particular Christmas gift. Being a finicky eater as a kid, I had carefully avoided any needless confrontation with fruitcakes. They seemed to be a seasonal curse. Eleven months of the year we were safe; there was nary a fruitcake in sight. But each December meant visits from the cake that wouldn't die. Mild-mannered friends were metamorphosed into evil invaders as they assaulted our home with the death bread. This time it was my pastor who stopped by with the fruited poison. Not wanting to be ungrateful, my mother opened and served it. As the cultic ceremony progressed, I was trapped; my time had come and I was forced to eat my first fruitcake. I still wince whenever I see a circular tin.
But Christmas has always been about gifts. I can only imagine the amazement of the shepherds as they gazed upon the baby and remembered the angel's words, "There has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Paul understood it when he praised God "for His indescribable gift." After all, "God so loved that He..." Mary's "Magnificat" was her gift to an excited cousin, and to her gracious God. The angel's gift of explanation to the confused and heartbroken Joseph may be the most overlooked gift of every Christmas pageant.
During the 1960's, a phenomenon called "Peanuts" was born. The comic strip began popping up in newspapers all over America. It was destination reading. The cartoon's simplistic characters and modest storylines had become the perfect placebo for millions looking for a dose of innocence.
And none of it was lost on Madison Avenue.
CBS first approached Charlie Schultz, creator and writer of the Peanuts comic strip, with an idea of an animated television Christmas Special featuring Charlie, Lucy, Linus and the whole gang. The writer agreed and the work began, and CBS was quick to review the script.
Schultz titled the special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. CBS approved.
The opening scene placed Charlie on his tiptoes peeking into his snow-covered mailbox hoping to find a Christmas card - to no avail... again. Feeling dejected, he stopped by Lucy's psychiatric booth to mourn the commercialism of Christmas. Lucy agreed, adding her own lament: "Christmas is nothing but a lot of stupid toys. What I really want is real estate!"
CBS loved it.
In the next scene Charlie became further disillusioned as Snoopy was busy decorating his doghouse with an endless sting of lights and gaudy decoration in hopes of winning a neighborhood contest. "Good grief!" says Charlie.
"Yeah, yeah, that's it!" thought CBS.
Even Sally, Charlie's baby sister, was caught up in the trappings. She recruited him to take dictation for a letter to Santa. "Dear Santa. Just send money, preferably tens and twenties."
More laughter from the CBS heads.
As the story progressed, Lucy sent Charlie to pick out a Christmas tree for their neighborhood pageant: "A big, shiny aluminum tree... maybe painted pink." But Charlie couldn't do it. Instead, he brought back a real, albeit small, pathetic, lifeless tree... and the kids hated it. "You blockhead, Charlie Brown!"
In frustration, Charlie screamed, "What is Christmas about, anyway?!"
"This is good, really good!" CBS drooled.
Then Linus stepped into the spotlight and answered Charlie's question:
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, 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 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. 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, good will toward all men.'"
"Hold everything!" demanded CBS. "You can't recite Bible verses on national television...and especially the King James Version! You'll alienate our viewers and chase away our advertisers. The tree can stay but the Bible has to go."
Schultz stood firm. "If I can't tell the Christmas story, you can't have the Peanuts cast. If the Christmas reading goes, so do they!"
CBS looked at the fast approaching deadline... and gulped. "Ok, it stays. But we're going to pay a terrible price for this."
And, sure enough, on the night of the Christmas Special, the CBS switchboard was flooded with calls from around the country, all asking the same question, "When can we have more Peanuts Christmas Specials?"
"Soon," CBS promised, "very, very soon." And a TV tradition was born. 50 percent of America tuned into the show that night. It won an Emmy and a Peabody award. TV Guide claimed Linus' biblical recitation was one of the top 35 moments in television history. And it became the longest running Christmas special on CBS.
The Christmas story can never be told too much. His coming was never meant to be secretive. After all, God "emptied Himself" and "became a man." He stepped out of eternity and into time, and "we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father."
Now it's our turn to step into the spotlight and tell the old, old story that's ever new.
Vice President of Church Relations
P.S. If you're looking for great preaching tools, don't forget Preaching Magazine. It's my favorite. Check it out at Preaching.com. Do your congregation a favor by subscribing.
Copyright 2007 by Ron Walters
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