CHARLIE BROWN’S ADVENT LAMENT-COMMERCIALIZATION
December 8, 2019…2nd Sunday of Advent
A Charlie Brown Christmas is perhaps the most beloved animated TV special of all time. It aired this past Thursday evening for the 54th consecutive year, and it still gets tremendous ratings!
There’s something about ol’ Charlie Brown’s lamentations regarding this season of the year that resonates with us. Last Sunday we talked a bit about Charlie Brown’s and our codependency toward Christmas, expecting the season to produce an overwhelming warm fuzzy feeling. We talked about how Christmas is really about incarnation, not emotion.
This morning we hear Charlie Brown expressing another frustration:
[SHOW VIDEO CLIP]
Charlie Brown is concluding a conversation with Lucy. She says:
Incidentally, I know how you feel
about all this Christmas business…
…getting depressed and all that.
It happens to me every year.
I never get what I really want.
I always get a lot of stupid toys
or a bicycle…
…or clothes or something like that.
-What is it you want?
Charlie Brown then heads over to Snoopy’s doghouse…Snoopy is busy nailing up lights and decorations all over his humble abode:
What’s going on here?
Snoopy hands Charlie Brown a promotional flier…he reads it out loud:
“Find the true meaning of Christmas.
Win money, money, money.
Spectacular, super-colossal neighborhood
Christmas-lights-and-display contest.” Lights-and-display contest?
Oh, no. My own dog gone commercial! I can’t stand it! Oh….
Yes, for Charlie Brown, Christmas has truly gone to the dogs when his own dog has gone commercial! And we certainly know what he’s talking about, do we not?
CHRISTMAS AS A NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY…
If you are truly looking for some adventure in a very foreign land this Christmas, take a trip up to New York City. And if you really want to live on the edge, venture down into the bowels of the New York City subway system. You will see and experience some fascinating things!
I was pondering the other day how our celebration of Christmas resembles a New York City subway line (I know what you’re thinking – the Lord speaks to feeble-minded Burch in mysterious ways – perhaps he’s overdue for some medication!).
Take the Broadway-7th Avenue Line that stretches from the southern tip of Manhattan all the way north to the Bronx. And once you’ve ventured down the dimly lit steps and find yourself standing on the gritty, grimy platform of the Broadway-7th Avenue Line with hundreds of hurrying, harried passengers, you’ll have to decide which train you want to catch:
THE #3 COMMERCIAL EXPRESS TRAIN
The express train rolls like a bat out of hades into the station with brakes squealing, coming to an abrupt stop. And most of the folks on the platform begin elbowing their way thru the doors and fighting for standing room on the inside. It’s an NBA basketball game on steroids, with every person for him or herself, as you squeeze into the sleek, silver sardine can.
The express train is popular. It moves non-stop along the line, pausing briefly at only the glitzy, glamorous destinations. Staten Island Ferry, Times Square, the Theater District, Madison Square Garden, Central Park. This is where most everyone is headed.
The express train of commercialization is what most everyone is riding toward Christmas these days. We’re in frantic, panic mode. Our blood pressure is elevated as we are bombarded with ads to shop till we drop. The National Retail Federation forecasts we will rush around, spending an average of $1,047.83 on gifts this Christmas, amounting to some $730.7 billion as a nation.
The commercial Christmas has become the engine that pulls a good bit of our economy. I was chatting with the owner of a small shop in downtown Staunton. She told me that she does nearly one-half of her year’s business in the month of December.
Love it or hate it, this is a side of Christmas that surrounds us. And unless we are absolute hermits, we all find ourselves catching the commercial express train at some point during the holidays. The noise, the crowds, the gorging, the exhaustion often overwhelm the quiet voice of the Holy within our hearts.
Let’s pause here for a moment and listen to a portion of Luke’s gospel, chapter 2:
1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
The trip southward from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 80 miles. It is a long, dusty, torturous four-day journey for a woman nine months pregnant riding upon a donkey. Her back is killing her. Each step of the donkey is another jolt of agony. But Mary, comforted and encouraged by her husband Joseph, perseveres. Soon, he tells her, they will be warm in the shelter of a Bethlehem inn.
But when they arrive, the village is teeming with other travelers who have arrived for the census also. When Joseph pounds desperately on the door of one particular hospitality house, the owner finally opens the door, and in an exasperated voice, he tells them there is no more room. He is not a bad man; he is a busy man. The only quarters they will find to bed down for the night is the stable out back, a cave-like structure carved into the rocky hillside.
It is here that nativity of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords takes place. It is here that God chooses to enter our world. It is here that the baby Jesus is born to Mary and Joseph, and he is placed upon a bed of hay in a rough-hewn feeding trough, surrounded by the bellowing of livestock and the pungent odor of fresh manure, because there is no room for him in the inn.
Yes, the first words the world says to Jesus are “No room for you here!”…and this experience will plague him the remainder of his days on earth…and, indeed, even to this present moment.
No room!… Sorry…we’re full up….a lot going on…Try again some other time….No room for you here right now. So if you’ll please excuse me, I’ve got a million and one things to see about! –Dear, don’t forget the eggnog…Honey, what was the promo code on that Amazon Prime site…Sorry, Jesus, but there’s just no time for you right now!
Yes, when it comes to Jesus, most of our society hangs out a No Vacancy sign. We are busy nailing the lights to the doghouse, riding on that commercial express train to Christmas!
THE #1 CONSECRATED LOCAL TRAIN
There is another option, though.
When you’re in the bowels of a New York City subway station… standing there on that gritty, grimy platform…and most of the maddening throng has shoved their way on to the #3 Commercial Express Train…you hear the slow clacking of another train arriving from down in the tunnel.
It is the #1 Consecrated Local Train. Local trains in the New York subway system putter along at a leisurely pace, stopping in numerous non-descript neighborhoods along the line…the neighborhoods that the express trains speed through non-stop.
Only a few everyday-looking passengers board the local train. There’s plenty of room. Some are carrying groceries….others bookbags. There’s very little high fashion. Just normal, common folks.
There are times when Valerie and I have embarked on the local train by mistake, and other times we’ve boarded it out of sheer curiosity. And we’ve explored some of the neighborhoods where the train stops–where these normal folks get off.
And we’ve met wonderful, interesting, friendly people in those neighborhoods, had some great meals…bagels at a Greek breakfast joint in SoHo, coal-fired pizza in Hell’s Kitchen, piping-hot buttermilk cornbread that was better than my Mama’s up in Harlem. We’ve meandered through tiny shops.
We’ve found these parts of New York City to be a refreshingly unique and delightful world. We’ve found these enclaves to be the true heart and soul of the city, and we would have totally missed them if we had not taken the #1 Local Train.
Friends, sometimes we need to join Charlie Brown in seeking something more different and profound in this Christmas season. We need to step off that loud, boisterous #3 Commercial Express Train and board the more silent, sublime #1 Consecrated Local Train. We need to make time to hear the holy… to experience the majesty, mystery and mundane of our Lord’s incarnation.
Consider the words of Revelation 3:20:
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.
Yes, quietly, unobtrusively, Jesus is knocking. Can you hear him?
Well, friends, we have visited Snoopy’s doghouse and New York this morning… let’s make one more stop on this sermonic sleighride – Kansas!
I never tire of telling the story of a small Kansas church that each year put on the traditional nativity pageant. In the church was a rambunctious 10-year-old kid named Barry. Barry had managed to create a disaster in every Christmas play he had been in.
One year his angel wings caught on fire and nearly burned the church down. The next year, as Herod the Great, he jumped up from his throne and, in his usual clumsy way, jerked the carpet out from under the three Wise Men and dumped them on their heads. The children begged Mrs. Kline, the director, not to let Barry ruin another play. “Please, Mrs. Kline, can’t you just leave Barry out this year?”
But Mrs. Kline couldn’t bring herself to reject a little boy who tried his best and loved Jesus with all his heart, even if he was an accident waiting to happen. She was able to convince the other kids that Barry couldn’t do any real damage by playing the innkeeper of Bethlehem. He would only have to open and close the door and say just one line.
Barry made it flawlessly through all the rehearsals. Then, the night came for the production. The church was filled with adoring parents, friends, citizens from across the community. They sat in awed, hushed silence, reliving the Christmas story.
Barry’s 15 seconds of glory came in Scene 3. He opened the door of the inn and looked straight into the faces of Mary and Joseph. Mary sat very sad and pale on a little donkey, which they had never used during the rehearsals.
You could almost hear the brisk wind whistling around the cold stone walls of the inn and blowing the thin cloak of gentle Mary.
But Barry came through! He said his line with professional flair and timing: Begone, I have no room for the likes of you! Mary and Joseph turned sadly away into the cold night, but Barry was still standing at the open door of his inn.
Audience members in the front row noticed tears welling up in his eyes. His lips began to tremble.
“WAIT!!!” It came like a thunderclap. Every heart in the room stopped. What on earth was Barry saying? This wasn’t in the script!
“WAIT!!!,” Barry continued, “Mary, Joseph! You can have my room!!!”
All bedlam broke loose. Children cried, parents were outraged, citizens split their side in laughter, pandemonium reigned! Barry had succeeded in ruining yet another Christmas play!
Mrs. Kline rushed out from behind the scenery. She quieted the crowd. She dried Barry’s bewildered tears as well as her own.
Then she said to the cast members and audience, “Maybe Barry has shared the real message of Christmas for us after all…for only those who have room in their hearts, can the dear Christ child enter in!”
To this day the residents of that small Kansas town have never forgotten that Christmas pageant.
Yes, the ultimate question this holy season asks of you and me is this:
Is there room?
Is there room for Jesus in the caterwauling cacophony of our 21st century commercialized Christmas?