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December 28, 2016, 10:56 AM

Light of the World


Let us pray:
Light of the World, may the words of our mouths,
and the meditations of our hearts, together,
be found pleasing and acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock, our Redeemer, our Salvation. Amen.
 
A show of hands, how many of you gathered here tonight have seen, or are somewhat familiar with, A Charlie Brown Christmas? That’s a lot of hands. A Charlie Brown Christmas has become a beloved part of many people’s Christmas traditions. I honestly don’t remember a time when I didn’t know this lovely story. As a child, I would watch for it to be broadcast on television, another sign that Christmas was coming. Along with Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown and the gang were familiar parts of my holidays. I think I even have a copy on VHS or DVD. So imagine my surprise when I was half-listening to a YouTube trivia video with Aidan, that I discovered something I had never noticed about A Charlie Brown Christmas! We will get to that in a moment.
 
A Charlie Brown Christmas is a touching and deeply religious story. Charlie Brown is seeking the meaning of Christmas in the midst of the glaring commercialism of the culture. Creator, Charles Shultz, shines a light on all the glitz and glamor sold to us by our capitalistic society—shiny aluminum trees, tons of colored lights, house decorating contests (Snoopy wins), and even Easter decorations being sold at Christmas time. Many of the characters in the story pressure good ole Chuck to ‘get the celebrations right.’ These ‘right celebrations’ include a Christmas pageant that Charlie Brown is supposed to direct, and everything is expected to be perfect. But if you know Charlie Brown, things just never seem to go his way and he never quite gets things right. And so, after mistake after mistake, Charlie Brown is a bit lost. He feels that somehow everyone is missing the point, that the meaning of Christmas has been lost even in the preparations for the telling of the nativity story. The high point of the show is the moment when Linus, probably Charlie Brown’s best friend, takes the stage, alone, no props, no pomp and circumstance, and recites from memory the nativity story from Luke, ending by walking over to Charlie Brown and saying, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”
 
I was struck this year by how very Luke-like A Charlie Brown Christmas is. Charles Shultz captured the essence of Luke’s gospel, and the nativity story in particular, in the telling of Charlie Brown’s Christmas celebrations.  Luke’s nativity story unfolds like a television drama. The opening of the story is shot with a wide angle lens—a broad shot of the cultural scene. Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome; the lens focuses in a bit-Quirinius, Governor of Judea; the lens moves in a bit more-a royal census, a command to travel. The lens then suddenly zooms in on the single figure of Joseph, born in David’s city of Bethlehem in Judea, but living in Galilee, in the little town of Nazareth. Joseph must travel, with his pregnant fiancé, for this census, because of this command. The stage is set, but what a contrast. “In a world of empires and power and might, hear the story of poor day-laborer and his pregnant girlfriend, as they travel from a Podunk town in the backwaters of Galilee.” Luke declares in 5 short verses that the world was focused on the majesty and power of Emperor Augustus and his rule, but the true meaning of the universe was somewhere else, somewhere that nearly everybody missed.
 
In fact, in contrast to this broad-angled view of the glitz and glamor of Rome, the true Light of the World enters the story in 2 short verses with no pomp and circumstance, the couple alone, center stage, with no witnesses outside of the divine. From the Common English Bible—“While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby.  She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.” This is the meaning of everything, Luke declares. This simple birth, in the place where the animals are kept in a peasant house, to two nobodies from nowhere; this is the meaning of salvation, the meaning of redemption. Here is the Light of the World, wrapped up and sleeping in a feeding trough.  That is the meaning of Christmas Charlie Brown. And then, to make sure we were getting the contrast between the world’s way and God’s way, God sends the heavenly forces in all their glory to proclaim the wondrous birth of God made flesh…to poor, dirty, animal herders literally in the middle of nowhere.
 
Why? Why does God operate so opposite to the world’s way? Why does God shirk the power and influence of Augustus in Rome, or Quirinius in Judea, or even the authorities of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem? Why does God choose to come among us in such poverty and vulnerability, such powerlessness? Because God needs to be sure we understand that God is for everyone. God is not the exclusive property of those who control the government. God is not the exclusive property of those who control the religious establishments. No, God is no one’s property. God is for everyone, but especially for those cast aside by the powers that be. God comes among us in an animal shelter to two peasants and declares God’s arrival to a group of shepherds out in the wilderness to be sure we understand how precious all people are in God’s eyes. There are no nobodies. Day laboring carpenters—precious. Unwed, pregnant teen—favored beyond imagining. Sheep herders in the fields—beloved. “Don’t be afraid!” the angel proclaims. “God is with you.” God is for us! No one is outside of God’s embrace, God’s love, God’s care. No one!
 
So, what did I discover about A Charlie Brown Christmas that I had never noticed before? It involves Linus. Linus, Lucy’s little brother, is easily identified by one item that he always has with him, is always clutching. Do you know what it is? Yes, it is his blue security blanket. Linus carries his security blanket with him everywhere, always, and is known, at times, to clutch it to his face and suck his thumb. And as he takes center stage for that famous and beautiful reciting of Luke 2, his security blanket is clutched firmly in his left hand. That is, until he gets to the angels… “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. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: (drop blanket) for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  When Linus speaks the message of the angel, the command to not fear, he lets go of his security blanket. When he encounters the good news that God is for him, for everyone, he doesn’t need that blanket. He will pick it back up again. He is still on his faith journey and living into the gospel is life-long work. But in that moment, as he encounters the Light of the World, Linus releases his earthly securities to embrace the message of good tidings and great joy.
 
Tonight we are here to worship and celebrate the Light of the World come among us. In just a few moments, after we have tasted of the appetizer to the heavenly feast, we will take these tiny candles and ignite them by passing the light of Christ to each other. We will hold for a moment in our hands the Light of the World—(light’s candle from the altar and holds it high)—so small, so vulnerable, so seemingly powerless in the scheme of things, and yet, this is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. It cannot understand it. Tonight we will hold the Light of the World in our hands, and in our hearts, and lay down for a moment our earthly securities. Behold, the Light of the World for all people! Thanks be to God! Amen!

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