I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” On so many levels. In fact, for the last 10 years, I've played the soundtrack nonstop during the whole month of December. This year, I realized that what I really resonate with is Charlie Brown’s apparent inability to reconcile the true meaning of Christmas with what he is seeing around him. He is disgusted by the commercialism, and is desperately seeking something more real and true. He is seeking a way to enter into the celebration authentically, and to be rid of the shoddy imitation. And since I apparently think this cartoon boy is real, I have a hunch Charlie feels deeply for injustice and desperately needs some good news; he needs to see a light in the darkness. And even though toward the end of the show things in Charlie’s little world are still somewhat of a mess, when Linus shares with all the kids what the true meaning of Christmas is, there is joy and there is peace.
I often feel like Charlie Brown. How can we celebrate freely when there is so much wrong in the world? This year, just when much of my town, county, and state is consumed by wildfire, I realized I needed to reconcile darkness with the brightness of Christmas. I need permission to enter into the celebration, permission to enjoy the festivities even while there is still suffering, even while there is still unrest. While many are newly homeless, and while the ashes still fall.
Your birthday is coming up. Christmas. The day we celebrate your dramatic and yet somewhat squalid entrance into this world. Birth is such a messy business, yet next to death, it’s the holiest moment of the human experience. And with you being holy and human, I believe it’s perhaps the holiest moment in history. And so, we celebrate. We celebrate the emergence of light, coming from within the darkness.
For such a glamourous modern holiday, the actual historical details were much the opposite. The details illustrate the genesis of the holiday was in poverty, not extravagance. But really, the extravagance is birthed from the poverty, I think. Your mom was a virgin peasant, and yet she bore a king. Your human family wasn’t welcome in Bethlehem, and yet you became the most welcoming person in history. Your brand new tiny lungs breathed in dust and dung, while your ears and eyes witnessed the spectacle of heaven’s elaborate birth announcement. Your life began in conflict; conflicting darkness and light. It’s the story of your birth, and the story of your life. You are an anomaly; dear sweet baby boy, and future Conquerer.
Your birthday has become kind of a thing here in America. It is still very beautiful, sometimes still holy, but it seems to have evolved. It seems to have gone from earthy and deep to glossy and shallow. And that’s confusing. Every Christmas, I think about buying, I think about buying what others are selling and it’s not really adding up. Our world sells plasticized happiness. It sells empty promises of perfection. It sells the lie that the flawless and fancy life is the only one that can produce joy. It sells beauty that hasn’t ever seen pain, sells fantasy as reality. Our world sells spray paint and spackle to patch the cracks, and brooms to sweep the crumbs under the carpet.
Help me to understand the contrast. Help me to make sense of the abundance of food and merriment and glitter and cedar garlands and champagne, while so much of the world is askew. Help me to understand a way to participate, to see clearly and rejoice, to reconcile the way the darkness swirls around the light. Help me to understand the disparity between plenty and need, between belonging and rejection, between joy and sorrow, because it’s all there. Not all is right in the world, you know.
I want to be free this year, free to celebrate you with abandon. Free to set heartache aside and enter into joy. Free to feast and decorate and sing and play because of how you love us.
As I imagine what the first days of life were like for you, I have questions. Did you have any idea what was to come? The contrast, the polarity. I know your birth night was spectacular with the angels and stars and singing, the heavenly show, the golden glow, yet you were born in a barn. A place not meant for humans to sleep, much less for giving birth. You were presented with gold, frankincense, myrrh, yet others were out for your blood and willing to kill every child in the vicinity to get to you. While some rejected you, others worshiped.
Did you ever struggle with the things that must have been said about your mother and family? The labels, the whispers. Things in your family had a rocky start, I know. I wonder if you ever felt less-than? Unwanted? I wonder if you felt like you were looking through a bright window at other people’s lives and saw only warmth and comfort, contrasting your own lot as dark and dingy? Because I know you were human, I know you were helpless, that you needed diapers and to be burped, that you learned to crawl and then walk. I know that you cried when you were teething, that you needed comfort when things went bump in the night. You were not exempt from life, from humanity. And you still came.
But my heart tells me there was something deeper than circumstances dictating your joy. Because the peace, love, and joy within you outshone the rejection, the death threats, the poverty.
We share the human experience, Jesus. We do. You see the same hurts that I see, you feel sad like I do, because as you said, in this world you will have trouble. And trouble found you, beginning with a world that says “go have your baby in a trough, see if I care.”
You know, Jesus, I think it’s your humanity that rocks me the most. I know you felt physical and emotional pain, that you stressed out and got tired. I know that you felt broken-hearted by those you love. You felt. You worked. You prayed. You thirsted. You cried. You laughed. You got mad.
And yet, in all your humanity, in all your divinity, you pushed through the darkness, you scattered it and shattered it for thirty-something years. You loved and loved, and wouldn’t back down. This was the way you grew strong and wise and into the fullness of God’s will. In love, you gave freedom to a destitute woman, prostituting herself and bound by demons. In love, you lifted the head of the woman made an outcast by her 12 years of bleeding, you gave women voice and forgiveness and healing and freedom. In love, you gave sight to blind beggars, dirty and miserable, you gave men back their dignity and the ability to work and play through healing. In love, you raised the dead, both still on the deathbed and the stinky one already in the grave, even while the mockers bellowed. In love, you broke bread with those damned by their reputation, the thieves, the despised, the dogs of society. In love, you dedicated your time and attention to the uneducated, the marginalized, the sick, the destitute, the helpless. In love, you begged forgiveness for your murderers, while the blood ran down your body.
The prophet Isaiah was correct when he said:
The people who walk in darkness shall see a great Light—a Light that will shine on all those who live in the land of the shadow of death.
That is us, and that is you.
We are waiting for you, Jesus. All month long we wait, we anticipate the celebration of your advent, you are the star of our December, the light at the end of the year. And in the anticipation, I see the glow of contentment and hope and beauty. I see the light through the darkness. I see that the darkness has been overcome. I see that it was in darkness you came, that it wasn’t cute or quaint, but dirty and humble, and that even in radical circumstances, poverty, and rejection, there can be joy and celebration. There should be joy and celebration.
There will be joy and celebration.
Joy is more enduring than sorrow, light is stronger than darkness. I see it, I see it. We see the star, we see you. And you have filled us with joy! Your birthday is cause for a party, no matter what the world is selling, no matter what the circumstances.
Happy Birthday, dear Jesus. Happy Birthday to you!