A Charlie Brown Christmas

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Peanuts gang gives Charlie Brown a special assignment: Go buy a big, pink, shiny, aluminum Christmas tree for their Christmas play. So Charlie Brown and Linus set out for the tree lot, where they wade through a myriad of gaudy, metal trees to find the only natural tree in the lot, which happens to be pitifully scrawny and prone to dropping the few pine needles still clinging to it. Thus, upon his return, the children berate Charlie Brown for his choice. This inspires him to cry out in desperation, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

Linus responds, "Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about." He then steps out on stage where everyone can see and hear him and starts quoting Luke's Gospel (2:8-14) "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, 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 good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, 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."

The children stand speechless. Charlie Brown, with a renewed spirit, leaves the auditorium by himself, taking his little tree with him. Approaching Snoopy's flashy, decorated doghouse, he decides to borrow an ornament for his tree. But the tree bends in half under the ornament's wait. Charlie Brown reacts saying, "I've killed it. Oh! Everything I touch gets ruined." Sulking away, he leaves the tree behind him, still bent to the ground. Then the other children enter the scene. Linus stands the tree upright, using his blanket to support its base. As one, the group transfers Snoopy's decorations onto the tree, transforming it into an attractive, confident looking Christmas tree. Soon thereafter Charlie Brown returns and sees his tree standing there, full and stately. The movie ends with all the children yelling, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" Then the credits roll as they chime in to sing "Hark! The Herald Angel Sing."


Notice the parallels between Charlie Brown's tree and the Christmas story Linus quotes from Luke's gospel:

--The little tree and the infant Jesus are so small and fragile that they cannot survive without the warmth and support of a simple blanket.

--The little tree and Christ's incarnation are easy to take for granted at first glance, but they represent a spark of genuine life amidst a distracted and inherently artificial world.

--Charlie Brown's tree was the only living tree in the entire lot, while Christ is the Fountainhead of Life for the entire lot of humanity.

--Both the tree and Jesus Christ endure humble beginnings, but their inherent beauty eventually becomes recognizable to average, naked eye.

Sufjan Stevens -- The Transfiguration

(Photo courtesy of Joe Lencioni)

Transfiguration Lyrics:

When he took the three disciples to the mountainside to pray,
His countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came; they were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.

Then there came a word of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade; they fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God, the face of God, covered in a cloud.

What he said to them, the voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come.
The prophecy was put to death, was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision till the time has come.

Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear!
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!


As humans seeking God, our great challenge is to keep the faith. We have been given free will to exercise for good, which is an extremely difficult task, but God created us for this purpose.

On some days Christ might appear to us transfigured, clothing all aflame, with God's voice booming down in affirmation. But much of the time God's face seems veiled, as with a cloud.

The Truth makes so much sense, but who among us has the fortitude to cling to Him despite our endless trouble, fear, doubts and our nagging weaknesses?

We might construct a tabernacle for ourselves, as Peter suggested to God, to shore up our faith. Maybe hardened brick and tradition piled on top of each other would give us a predictable point of reference, in case God's face seems veiled. But this is misguided. Such thinking compromises our mission, which is to live and die for Christ. We are dying already; we can't avoid death. The question is, what are we living and dying for?

We struggle against discouragement and doubt, but not without purpose. Christ Himself is our Edifice. His is a difficult Way in that He does not make room for fleshly compromises. But, if we trust Him to maintain our faith and our daily sanity, then and we won't have struggled in vain.

The fact that God's face is covered in a cloud so much of the time is strategic. This relates to our purpose for existing, which is to seek Him despite our limited perspectives. We will inevitably struggle, but everyone struggles. If we are following after Christ as we go, then we struggle with heavenly purpose.

So, in the mean time, let's keep singing songs that remind us of God's glory such as this one by Sufjan Stevens, especially during those times, as he said, when God seems "lost in the cloud."

Star Wars Episode 1 -- Midichlorians and God

During one of many awkward dialogues in Star Wars, Episode 1, Qui-Gon Jinn takes young Anakin aside to teach him how the Force works. The Force works really well for Anakin because has a lot "Force Genes," also known as Midichlorians. According to Qui-Gon (and Obi-Wan Kenobi) Midichlorians float around in people's body like little tubes of super-Force glue. The more of these pseudo-genetic things you have, the better you will stick to the Force (or the the Force will stick to you).

The fact that George Lucas tried to define the Force in such limited terms continues to offend Star Wars fans today (nine years later), because this was a misguided attempt to quantify something powerfully mysterious that was therefore better left out of any Webster's definition.

The same thing applies to genuine divinity as well. God is unquantifiable--that's part of what makes Him God. Not only is He too big to measure, He transcends even the concept of measurement. He makes Himself knowable through Jesus Christ, but this too is a mysterious phenomenon. Ultimately we will never be able to define Him in human terms, nor will we be able to wrap our mortal minds around Him. This is a good thing; this hints at the fact that He is God.

Star Wars fans respect the Force (even though they know George Lucas imagined it) to the point that they are upset by his attempt to quantify it (him/her?). Thus it is ironic that many, maybe even most, people are offended by God's infinitude.

It is both good and necessary that God is immeasurable by human standards; otherwise he would be excessively limited, or mortal and therefore not worthy. People prefer to impress an excessively human character on God, as if He has room to improve, but this would imply that He is not perfect already, which would make Him less than divine.

People liked the Force as it was before Episode One--untainted by this unsavory attempt at defining it in pseudo-scientific terms. Indeed, the ultimate question for all things -- "Why?" -- must transcend pragmatic phraseology. Science, for example, can tell us how things work, but it can't tell us why. Observing the way things are is a far cry from explaining why things are. Take gravity for example. We can observe the fact that two masses tend to exercise an attractive force on each other, but why? Someone must have invented the concept of gravity... why don't two masses repulse one another? Or electricity at the atomic level, or the fact that water expands when it is frozen... why?

To know God we have to surrender any right we think we have to define Him. He will never fit in a religious or intellectual box. He will always exceed our expectations... and these are all good things. Incidentally, getting to know God is the most effective way to expand our intellect, our faith and our ability to deal with this present life.