CHARLIE BROWN’S ADVENT LAMENT…CONSUMPTION
December 15, 2019 … 3rd 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. Two weeks ago 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.
Last Sunday 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.
This morning we’re going to witness Charlie Brown lamenting another pitfall of the season – being all-consumed by consumption.
[SHOW VIDEO CLIP]
Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister, approaches:
I’ve been looking for you, big brother.
Will you please write a letter
to Santa Claus for me?
Well, I don’t have much time.
I’m supposed to get down to the school
auditorium and direct a Christmas play.
You write it,
and I’ll tell you what I want to say.
Dear Santa Claus, how have you been?
Did you have a nice summer?
How is your wife?
I have been extra good this year…
…so I have a long list of presents
that I want.
Please note the size and color of each item
and send as many as possible.
If it seems too complicated,
make it easy on yourself:
Just send money.
-How about 10s and 20s?
-Tens and 20s?
Even my baby sister.
All I want is what I have coming to me.
All I want is my fair share.
IS SALLY THE ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS HOARDER?
She definitely sees Christmas as a gigantic celebration of accumulation, does she not? It’s all about the getting–the presents, the Benjamins!
I heard a yarn about a 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Dolan, asking her class about their holiday family activities and traditions. Jessica said, “We’re Catholic, so on Christmas Eve we go to midnight mass. It’s boring.” Reggie also chimed in, “My family does kinda the same thing- except we’re Baptist…our Christmas Eve service starts at 7:30 pm…and it’s long and boring!”
Johnny added, “My family doesn’t go to any boring church on Christmas Eve, but we’re still sort of religious. We all head down to my dad’s hobby shop after it closes at 9 pm. He opens up the cash register. And then we all join hands and sing What a Friend We Have in Jesus!”
A good question to ponder is this: Is happiness at Christmas, and in life, measured by the abundance of stuff? Do we, like Sally, have an idea what our fair share should be? And if we don’t get it, are we depressed and miserable?
It’s sad how Christmas feeds and expands this sense of entitlement. Are you feeling consumed by consumption?
As an aside, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Joe Sinegra after he had spent a couple of months off the grid recently hiking the Appalachian Trail from Southwest Virginia down to Georgia. He would walk 8-12 miles a day down wilderness pathways!
I asked Joe if there any special insights he gleaned from his journey. And he told me, “Yes – I learned just how little you really need to get by on in this world – my backpack, with a sleeping bag, change of clothes, food, water and a few other provisions – it was enough.” Interesting.
John Chrysostom, that great saint of the early church, used to say, “We are nailed to the things of this life.”
I wonder – how much of the stuff in my life is truly necessary? And how much of it is superfluous, impaling me instead of enabling me to be more of a true follower of my Lord?
Let’s dig a bit into the Christmas narrative from Luke this morning and discover some truth to live by:
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9 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: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
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.
ARE SHEPHERDS THE ORIGINAL MINIMALISTS?
There in Bethlehem so long, long ago, God tiptoes into the world.
Of all the confounding, convoluted, incongruent absurdities surrounding the Christmas story, the fact that God announces the birth of his Son to a ragtag collection of shepherds is simply over-the-top and off-the-page.
The stillness of a Palestinian nighttime is broken by a blinding light and an angelic concert. The shepherds are overcome with fear and awe! There is only one invitation from God to come visit Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus recorded in scripture, and this invitation is issued to persons who live life on the absolute minimal margins of existence. God indeed does some very strange things.
Let me tell you a bit about shepherds: Shepherds are religious outcasts. According to Jewish law, they are considered unclean and unwelcome by God because they cannot participate in synagogues and attend the religious festivals and observe all the endless rituals.
Theirs is a thankless, demanding, 24/7 job that prevents them from ever setting foot in a temple. And if they should by chance encounter a Scribe or Pharisee along a roadway or in town, they would be required to walk on the other side of the street to avoid polluting that religious leader’s religiosity.
And not only that, shepherds are social outcasts as well. They are always regarded with suspicion as they are always on the move seeking new pastureland for their flocks. People look upon them as gypsies—and if something comes up missing, they are the first ones accused of theft.
They are not permitted to give testimony in legal proceedings, because their word is not considered trustworthy. And since they don’t have much contact with people, they are lacking in a lot of polite social graces. They belch and pass gas and make awkward comments. They are the kind of folk Willie Nelsonstein speaks of when he sings, “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Shepherds!”
The sheep are the shepherds’ livelihood and their lives. Their days and nights are spent out in the fields with these lowly animals. They lead sheep to grass and water. At nighttime they forge crude pens out of brush and rocks, herd the sheep in, and then lie down across the entrance to protect the sheep from wolves and other predators. They will risk their very lives for these wooly creatures. The shepherds know each of their sheep by sight, and their sheep know them by the sound of their voice.
Yes, being a shepherd is a lonely, wearisome, mostly tedious, sometimes dangerous occupation.
Isn’t it ironic that Good News is announced to such religious and social outcasts? Why do you think this is so?
Perhaps the shepherds experience revelation because there is a scarcity of clutter in their lives. They have room to see and hear and embrace the invitation of the angels.
Now, I imagine these shepherd have more than a bit of discombobulation after having encountered a band of angelic beings! It’s hard to fathom! They must have been shouting to one another – “Hey, Titus—did you see that?” “Yep, I’m good—you okay, Benjamin?” “You don’t think that was bad dates or something else we ate?”
However, after they collectively pull their wits back together, this motley crew heads off into town to see if what the angels had been announcing is truly real. Yes, those who raise sacrificial lambs for the Temple are about to meet the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!
They search with great passion, with great urgency! Door-by-door, through the dusty streets, they look for that which had been made known to them. Finally, in the distance, they hear a faint cry! The wailing of an infant! It’s out back, behind the inn! Yes, there’s a young couple. And they are cradling a newborn baby! The shepherds descend breathlessly upon the stable, so very proud, so very satisfied, that they have found what had been announced unto them.
They discover the Holy Child of Bethlehem!
Perhaps we would do well to adopt more of their minimalist approach to life and faith. In doing so, we, too, might discover the presence of the Holy Child of Bethlehem this Christmas.
Indeed, a meaningful life is found in traveling light. 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 you–yes, you–in the humble manger of Bethlehem.
As many of you know, Karen Alley has been battling some difficult health issues over the course of this year that have greatly limited her mobility. And yet, she says these struggles have given her time to pray and reflect upon many things in her life’s journey, reflections that she often puts down on paper in poetry.
This past week she composed a bit of prose she entitled
A Child is Born
Twas the night before Christmas
But long, long ago
The night was warm
There was no snow.
Joseph and Mary had traveled so far,
They were tired, weary and worn.
Especially Mary for she was with child
And tonight he would be born.
Baby Jesus was birthed in a stable,
With but a manger for a bed.
He was born a king but would never wear
A king’s crown on his head.
This child was a gift from God,
A Savior to show us the way
To live our life as he lived his
This is why we celebrate Christmas Day.
It isn’t because of Santa Claus
With reindeer that fly through the night
It’s because this tiny babe was born
To carry our sins and make us right.
Keep him in your heart this Christmas
Don’t forget him in all you must do.
As you open your gifts just remember
The greatest gift has been given to you.
I wish for you this season
A Christmas that’s merry and bright.
So Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a good night!
Remember to thank Karen for her profound words!