Thursday, December 13, 2007

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

I was feeling blah and "bah, humbug" yesterday. But the kids' bedtime story happened to be the angels visiting the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. As I was reading the story, I told Josiah, "This is the part of the Christmas story that Linus said in A Charlie Brown Christmas." The storybook paraphrased it, but I did my best to recite it as Linus had, from the King James: "Fear not: for behold, I bring you 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."

Josiah smiled and said, "Say the Linus part again, Papa."

We did, and then Ellen and I started singing "Gloria in excelsis Deo." All this dispelled my mild case of the holiday blues, and it struck me that the passage is ingrained in my memory because of the Peanuts special.

I've been reading David Michaelis's biography Schulz and Peanuts, and in the chapter "Gospel," he tells the story behind the Charlie Brown Christmas TV special. During development, Schulz "proudly announced" that there would be "one whole minute" of Linus reciting the Gospel. The producer tried to talk him out of it. But Schulz insisted, "We can't avoid it--we have to get the passage of St. Luke in there somehow. Bill, if we don't do it, who will?"

Of course, the biblical text was preserved in the show, and it made television history. It's still one of the most transcendent moments ever on broadcast TV. A Charlie Brown Christmas went on to win a Peabody Award and an Emmy, and at the Emmy awards, Schulz said, "Charlie Brown is not used to winning, so we thank you."

What's interesting is that Schulz had something of an enigmatic faith. During certain periods of his life he was an active Christian; other times he confessed to "not being an orthodox believer." Christianity Today claimed Schulz as "a devout evangelical," but he later reacted against conservative Christianity and seems to have become a universalist. Despite all the biblical and religious references in Peanuts, Schulz said that "It's not an evangelistic strip. In fact, I'm anti-evangelistic."

Regardless of Schulz's ambivalence and characteristic Charlie Brownish wishy-washiness, I'm so grateful for whatever Christian commitment motivated him to write the Charlie Brown Christmas special as he did. Through this simple narration by a kid with a blanket, literally millions have heard the story of the birth of Jesus and the Christological affirmation that Christ is Lord.

Lights, please?
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, 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 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.'"

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

1 comment:

L.L. Barkat said...

I love the strange ways and places God finds to tell His story. Anything but blah.