Annually watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with my children, compels me to consider the wistful wisdom of Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schultz. The world of Snoopy, Linus, Schroeder, Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty and the rest is a bitter-sweet rehearsal of what so many people experience in real life. The gentle approach Schultz takes also helps us to find humor in the daily ironies that come their way.
Charlie Brown’s idealism in the Christmas special is really a contrast between those possessing a hunger for more than this life can give, and those who have not only forgotten the real point of Christmas, but who have forgotten the focus of Christianity, as well. The expectation for Charlie Brown to return with what others considered to be a perfect Christmas tree – a false, aluminum one – symbolizes a spiritual danger for Christians. It’s often easy for us to build artificial spiritual constructs and believe these things are the means to personal happiness.
What are these artificial spiritual constructs? They commonly take the shape of possessions, which we can then consider as proof of our spiritual well-being. For some, this is simply an accumulation of things that are generally associated with success, such as expensive cars, clothes or the latest gadgetry. We may wrongly assume that having all this stuff is a sign of special favor from heaven. For others, a church can be an artificial construct. It’s as if we think God himself, upon contemplating these enormous, fashionable facilities, might exclaim, “Wow! Now that’s a church I want to attend!” Maybe this is an impetus for those of fickle faith to frequent church. The thought process may be something like, “If I am going to church anyway, wouldn’t it be cool to rub elbows with God?”
Artificial spiritual constructs may also develop out of what we might consider good works. Many people today are keeping score in their spiritual lives. They quickly compare what they do and how often they do it to the actions of others. Tithing, working in a church building and volunteering at church events are all esteemed by some like feathers in a spiritual cap.
Jesus warned against this type of thinking, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former, (Matthew 23:23).
While it is certainly not wrong to be involved in serving, our work for the Lord is not meant to replace our relationship with Him! Too often we become satisfied with what we do, or what we have, and fail to seek more desirable things like the presence of God in our lives.
Actually, an artificial spiritual construct is nothing less than an idol. It is something we’ve concocted either by fashioning it literally with our hands or by imagining it with our minds. This then robs the rightful position which God should have in our lives: the only true source of personal fulfillment, joy and peace.
Charlie Brown’s war with commercialism aside, the real meaning of Christmas is pictured best in the little tree that no one else wanted. The tree might also represent all those who are poor in spirit who will inherit the kingdom of God through their faith in Jesus (see Matthew 5:3). The lowly of heart – materially well off, or not – are the very ones who are in the best frame of mind to receive God’s blessing. They are the ones who can most easily see that there really isn’t any hope without God. Instead of finding rejection at the hands of their Creator, they will find the tenderness, compassion, and understanding which the prophet spoke about in Isaiah 42:3, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” While we may not have time for all the lowly of heart we meet in our daily routine, God always acknowledges their need, their hurt and their emptiness.
Perhaps Charlie Brown’s little tree isn’t only a picture of the weak, forlorn and barren; maybe it also symbolizes Christ. He came in the weakest human form – and infant – and was forlorn from day one when even the Bethlehem inns had no room for him. Wrapped in rags, lying in a feedbox of a farm animal, he was a barren as anything can be.
Although we pity the scraggly tree Charlie Brown ended up with, the truth is that Charlie Brown needed the tree much more than the tree needed him. This endearing, renowned blockhead is the one who is clearly bereft of purpose, emptied of a sense of his own personal value and filled with questions that no one can answer. That is, until Linus wisely recites the familiar Biblical account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2:1-14.
Unlike the aluminum Christmas trees, the love of God is real and alive, reaching to the humble heart of anyone searching in sincerity. If your heart is humble enough to admit that it isn’t filled with a lasting sense of peace and purpose, it is time to stop chasing the flashing lights of the world whirling by at breakneck speed. It is time to start looking to the One who entered our world through a lowly manger, only to pour out His life on a rugged cross. It is time to look to the One Who rose from the dead in order to seal for us a future with Him forever. May your Christmas be focused on the only One who can give it meaning… Jesus.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” John 1:14.
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 16 ½ years. He is the pastor of Pathway Community Church and the author of The Fairy Tale Parables. He may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.