CHARLIE BROWN’S ADVENT LAMENT…CHAOS!
December 22, 2019…4th Sunday of Advent
A Charlie Brown Christmas is perhaps the most beloved animated TV special of all time. It has been an annual highlight of the Yuletide season since 1965.
There’s something about ol’ Charlie Brown’s lamentations regarding this season of the year that resonates with us. On the first Sunday of Advent, 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.
Two weeks ago we heard Charlie Brown railing about the commercialization of Christmas as he witnessed his dog Snoopy in Tasmanian Devil mode, frantically nailing up lights to his doghouse as he entered a home decorating contest in the hopes of winning a huge cash prize. We talked about how we, too, often succumb to the hectic, harried commercial side of Christmas, posting a No Vacancy sign in the window of our lives, leaving no room for Jesus in the midst of our celebration.
Then, last Sunday we witnessed Charlie Brown lamenting another pitfall of the season – being all-consumed by consumption.
We discussed how a meaningful life is found in traveling light. We need to take time to look beneath and beyond the consumption, and appreciate the simple wonder that God has chosen to reveal his life-altering love to us in the humble manger of Bethlehem.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent we will see Charlie Brown dealing with the chaos of Christmas, and we’re going to explore how we might find divine direction for our lives in times of similar deep disarray.
[SHOW VIDEO CLIP]
[UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING]
All right, quiet, everybody.
Our director will be here any minute
and we’ll start rehearsal.
-Director? What director?
-Oh, no, we’re doomed.
-This will be the worst Christmas play ever.
Here he comes.
Attention, everyone, here’s our director.
Man’s best friend.
Well, it’s real good seeing y’all here.
As you know,
we are going to put on the Christmas play.
Due to the shortage of time,
we’ll get right down to work.
One of the first things
to insure a good performance…
…is strict attention to the director.
I’ll keep my directions simple.
If I point to the right,
it means focus attention stage right.
If I make a slashing motion
across my throat…
…it means cut the scene short.
If I make a revolving motion with my hand,
it means pick up the tempo.
If I spread my hands apart,
it means slow down.
It’s the spirit of the actors that counts,
the interest that they show in their director.
Am I right? I said, am I right?
[MUSIC, DANCING & PANDEMONIUM ENSUES]
Poor Charlie Brown! How is he ever going to bring order to an out-of-control rehearsal? Talk about total bedlam! This Christmas play has gone totally off the rails!
Sometimes you and I can relate, can we not?
THE CHRISTMAS PLAY OF LIFE GOES OFF THE RAILS…
- When we are distressed by the chaos of stress.
LONDON — When Palmerston, the U.K. Foreign Office’s “chief mouser,” vanished from public view earlier this year, some became concerned about the black-and-white rescue cat’s whereabouts.
But now the creature’s @DiploMog Twitter profile, which has 100,000 followers, has announced his return to frontline duties.
Like countless human office workers, Palmerston needed time off because he was suffering with stress, Sir Simon McDonald, the permanent under secretary and head of the Diplomatic Service at the Foreign Office, said on Monday.
“It was no longer an environment that was working for him,” he wrote in a internal blog to staff. “He was over-grooming on his front legs, a sign of stress.” Yes, it seems Palmerston was getting stretched thin trying to keep all the rodents at bay in the dingy, ancient office building. So they have brought him back and given him a much smaller territory to cover.
British cats are not the only creatures who have to deal with stress. Most of us ordinary folk do as well. We live in a hectic society where the rats seem to be outrunning us in the race to chase them down.
Our lives often resemble pellets from a sawed-off shotgun, scattered in every direction of the wind. The pressures and expectations placed upon us in our occupations, the concerns we struggle with in our homes, the inability to say “No” that leads us to become overstretched in our church activities—it all eventually takes a toll upon us.
Feelings of apathy, complacency and hopelessness begin to take over. We have burnt the candle at both ends for so long that there’s nothing left in the middle but some charred fragments of wick. We no longer wake up in the morning and cheerfully proclaim, “Good morning, Lord!” No, the alarm clock sounds, and we cynically growl, “Good Lord, it’s morning!” and we drag ourselves off to the grind of another day.
Yes, many of us are distressed by the chaos of stress. And like Charlie Brown, our cries are drowned out by the music of a breakneck world!
The Christmas play of life also goes off the rails…
- When we are disabled by the chaos of suffering.
Pain has a way of turning your world upside-down. It clouds your thinking. It ruins your demeanor. It isolates you, for no one can truly understand what you’re going through.
Some of us must struggle daily with chronic, hounding, relentless hurt. Some of it is caused by disease. Some of it is the result of accident. Most comes from simply growing older.
Someone once commented, “As you get older, work seems a lot less fun, and fun seems to involve a lot more work.”
A friend of mine in Northern Va. is still trying to play slow-pitch softball at the age of 60. His team, known as the Old Farts, competes in a senior league. Burt says it’s kinda sad that, whenever someone gets a base hit, all the other players begin screaming “Jog!” and “Don’t slide!” You see, the most painful injury to be avoided is a pulled hamstring in your buttocks!
Yes, we can control many things in this world, but we cannot halt the passage of time. All of us are getting older, and with the aging process comes aches and pains.
A while back, before he finally retired, Willard Scott was listing the 100-year-old birthdays of the Today Show. One 102-year-old gentleman wrote it, “Willard, if I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself! My mind is slipping too—I’m still interested in women but I can’t remember why!”
I’m sure many of us share that sentiment. Some of us are struggling with afflictions that constantly nag us and get us down. I’ve lost count of how many folk in our Vision of Hope family have had knee, hip, shoulder and other orthopedic surgeries this year! You guys are troopers…I certainly feel for you!
Yes, the Christmas play of life seemingly goes off the rails when we are distressed by the chaos of stress and disabled by the chaos of suffering. And like Charlie Brown, we cry out but no one seems to hear our pain.
How about the Christmas play of life going off the rails…
- When we are distraught by the chaos of loss.
There are those occasions when we the wind gets knocked out of our souls by the loss of a loved one. Sometimes that loss seems to come quite naturally and we can come to terms with it more easily, as in the case of my wife’s grandmother passing away at the age of 96.
Other times, though, the loss may come tragically and suddenly, and our shock and hurt is harder to overcome.
There are two tiny books I highly recommend for your reading: Harold Kushner’s best-seller When Bad Things Happen to Good People and The Will of God by the British pastor and theologian Leslie Weatherhead. Of all the volumes of theology I have read, these offer by far the most comforting and compelling explanations for the “Why” of struggles and sorrow.
And yet, there are times when explanations do not offer any comfort to a tragic situation.
It was Christmas Day, 1982. Valerie and I were at my parents’ home in Chase City when the phone rang. On the other end of the line was Karen Eppard calling from Elkton. There had been an awful tragedy.
Keith Merica, a wonderful Christian young man, a devoted husband and proud father of a precocious 2-year-old daughter, had gathered with his extended family at his grandparents’ homeplace just east of Elkton.
His grandfather was a huge CB radio buff, and Keith was surprising him with a new high-gain antenna for his home CB unit.
While the women were inside preparing lunch and the men were out jawing on the front porch and kids were playing in the yard, Keith ascended a ladder to the metal roof and was attaching the new antenna to the chimney.
Suddenly a gust of wind blew, and Keith lost control of the antenna mast. It fell over and touched the 10,000-volt power line that passed through his grandfather’s property. Keith was electrocuted instantly as the electricity arced through the antenna and onto the metal roof.
As an extremely young pastor I never felt so inadequate as I faced that group of grieving family members when I arrived at their home that evening. When tragedy strikes, we are caught in the spin cycle of chaos for days that never seem to end. Life can certainly be so unfair and unforgiving.
We wonder if anyone understands when we are crying out. Is there any healing to be had?
Yes, the Christmas play of life indeed goes off the rails when we are distressed by the chaos of stress, disabled by the chaos of suffering and when we are distraught by the chaos of loss.
We need assurance. We need hope. Yes…
WE NEED DIRECTION THRU SPENDING TIME PONDERING…
Hear once again the Christmas narrative from Luke 2:
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Ponder – that’s a fascinating term we don’t hear very often today.
If you look in a dictionary, you learn that ponder means to reflect upon, or to think about things soberly and deeply. It means to think upon words or events in life, and try to determine what those words and events really mean.
Daniel Howell once commented poetically pondering is “the warm nurture of a soul welcoming hope.”
Or to put it another way, to ponder is to be immersed in, to be open to and to be dwelling upon the gift of Emmanuel – God with us.
Mary’s life has been, is and will be filled with pondering.
Mary ponders nine months earlier when the angel Gabriel announces to her that she will bear a child born of God’s Spirit, and she will name him Jesus.
She ponders now the breathless, unimaginable, angelic account the shepherds bring to her about her newborn son lying in a manger.
Twelve years from now she will ponder as she and Joseph find this Jesus in the Temple, precociously engaging the elders in theological discussion.
Thirty years from now, Mary will ponder Jesus’ miraculous response to her request to help a poor, embarrassed newly-married couple whose wedding party is on the verge of disaster because the wine has run out.
For three years hence Mary will ponder her son’s profound words that are good news to the oppressed and yet foment murderous hatred among the power brokers of religion and government.
Thirty-three years from now she will ponder as she beholds the gutwrenching pain of her son hanging upon a cross, proclaiming “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” crying out in anguish “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And then, she will ponder the incredulous news Mary Magdalene brings to her about an angel at an empty tomb on a Sunday morning: “He is not here! He is risen, just as he said!”
Yes, like an individual thumbing through a photo album of one’s life, Mary ponders and will ponder all these things, and in doing so, she finds the faith, the resilience, the hope to truly live. She will look back upon her life’s journey, and realize she has uniquely birthed hope into the world.
Yes, Mary, above all others, has known the truth of that beautiful word Emmanuel – God is with us! She has grasped the assurance that though she knows not what tomorrow may hold in her life’s journey, she can trust that God holds tomorrow.
Yes, when the Christmas play of life has seemingly gone off the rails… when we are distressed by the chaos of stress, when we are disabled by the chaos of suffering, when we are distraught by the chaos of loss, we must strive to follow the example of Mary, the mother of our Lord.
We need to take a long pause and ponder. We need to bare our souls and lay whatever chaos is afflicting us in the hands of God, asking for help to trust where our eyes and hearts cannot see. We have the assurance that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from his love shown to us in Christ Jesus.
This, my friends, is the hope that greets us and grasps us in the manger of Bethlehem!