In 1965, a certain blockhead made the leap from the funny pages to the small screen. He brought with him a wise beyond his years best friend, a faithful but eccentric dog, a host of classmates and friends, and his iconic yellow and black shirt. Somehow, he muddled through twenty-two minutes of airtime (commercials not included), getting everything wrong, as usual. He was asked to do the Christmas play but couldn’t control the rambunctious crowd of kids. He was asked to find a Christmas tree and out of a sense of pathetic kinship chose the worst tree imaginable. In the end, he even managed to botch decorating the scraggly thing, punctuating the adventure with the words, “I killed it.”
For most of us, we can find a certain connection with Charlie Brown or at least one of his friends. Some of us are Lucys, some are Linuses, some might even think themselves cool enough to be Snoopy, though I doubt they actually are. Be real people, nobody’s that cool. But the one thing people connected to the most, the one thing Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts gang wanted people to connect to, was the true meaning of Christmas. He was also insistent, against the better judgment of producers, about Linus’ monologue near the end of the show. The scene went like this.
Charlie Brown: I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about.
[shouting in desperation]
Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?
Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.
[moves toward center stage]
Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please.
[the lights dim, and a spotlight shines on Linus]
Linus Van Pelt: “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:”
[Linus drops his security blanket on purpose]
Linus Van Pelt: “for behold, I bring unto 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 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, good will toward men.'”
[Luke 2:8-14 KJV]
Linus Van Pelt: [silent pause as Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown] That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Linus then walks over to the withered looking tree.
Linus Van Pelt: [seeing Charlie Brown’s drooped-over Christmas tree] I never thought it was such a bad little tree.
[straightens it up]
Linus Van Pelt: It’s not bad at all, really.
[wraps his blanket around it for a skirt]
Linus Van Pelt: Maybe it just needs a little love.From imdb.com
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Sometimes, when I read the Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke, I think Joseph might have felt a bit little Charlie Brown. His wife to be is expecting before they get married. He has to pack up and go to Bethlehem in Luke, but in Matthew he has to deal with a jealous Herod. He sees angels in his dreams, hears stories of other people seeing and hearing singing angels, and hears from prophet and prophetess about how great this newborn child will become. I would think for a man just getting married and now becoming a father, that might be a lot to deal with. It strikes me that all this might have Joseph looking up at the sky saying, “Good grief.”
Yet like the longsuffering round headed boy from Charles Schultz’s imagination, Joseph soldiers on and follows the lead of the angels in his dreams or the prophets from the temple or Mary herself. He is faithful to Mary. He becomes father to the miracle child and takes on the task of helping to shepherd the young one in the Jewish faith and practice. In some ways, Joseph is having the football pulled away from him or having to watch the tree eat his kite, while his dog trots around like Joe Cool.
We don’t hear much about Joseph but what we do hear sees him gone by the time Jesus is gearing up for the ministry. And what we get is a rather limited perspective of a man who must have shaped the young life of Jesus. There are many extra-biblical stories of Joseph, stories that were left out of the New Testament for various reasons. They try to fill in the gaps of Joseph as a father and carpenter as well as a father. But of the things considered biblical, so little is known that he comes across as a two-dimensional character in a three-dimensional world, almost like a cartoon.
— § —
Everyone comes to the holidays a little Charlie Brownish. Like Joseph, we’re beaten down, battered, bewildered by life and all its expectations. We’re a bit overwhelmed by it all and find ourselves lost in doing the things. Add to this a world where we’ve been taught to fear and distrust so much and so many, we feel like the entire world is against us, a la Charlie Brown, practically all the time. Like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, what everyone needs is a little love, a little care from someone who can see past the moment and into something deeper, something with greater clarity. And once again, it’s Linus offering us a bit of context for the world, and it comes in one word.
This is not an I wish something good would happen kind of hope but a Something good has already happened and we need to respond to it. One thing we learn from the biblical writings is hope is active not a passive expression of faith. You don’t sit and wait for it; you live it and live into it. You become hope.
Hope is Mary hearing Gabriel’s message and acting on it by saying, Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Servants don’t sit or if they do, they don’t stay in service long. Servants work. It’s in the very nature of serving others. Hope for Mary wasn’t about sitting and waiting, it was about serving and caring for others, something I imagine she did while staying with her cousin Elizabeth for the three months before the birth of John the Baptist.
Hope is in the song Mary sings, the Magnificat. Reading the words of this song is like reading a litany of hope for the oppressed Jewish people of her time.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.Luke 1
Hope is the angels singing to shepherds in the fields. The Messiah, the anointed of God, is born. According to historians, there are many different interpretations of the Messiah in differing social and historical contexts. In 1st Century Roman occupied Palestine, some Jewish groups thought the Messiah would come as a military leader to overthrow the Roman occupation. Others thought he would come in the form of a King in the line of David and reestablish the throne in Jerusalem. Still others thought the Messiah would establish justice for all, especially the forgotten and marginalized of society. Whatever their belief, the angel’s announcement was one of hopes to be realized in the life of the man who was now a newborn.
What is your hope?
As you hear these words, as you sit there in the pews, what hopes do you have for the year to come. Are they for yourself? Are they for others? Are they hopes you are willing to work for, invest in?
As followers of Jesus, our hopes should be aligned or aligning with the hopes Jesus lived into during his ministry. Being a disciple is all about imitation. Are you willing to imitate Jesus to live as he lived, to serve as he served, to sacrifice as he sacrificed? Some might say, Yeah, but he was Jesus. How are we going to live up to that? Because he said we would. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these… There is no reason not to believe in what the Holy Spirit can do through us.
So, put it to the test. Live as Jesus lived. Love as Jesus loved. Serve as Jesus served.
 Luke 1:51-55
 John 14:12
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