It's Christmas Charlie Brown

by PastorErick | 12/20/17, 12:11 PM


One of my favorite Christmas movies is “It’s Christmas Charlie Brown!” I’m sure most of you have seen it at one time or another. Throughout the story Charlie Brown struggles in the midst of all the commercialism, and expectations of Christmas to try and find out just what the real meaning of Christmas is anyway. He’s feeling bummed out: he hasn’t received much of any Christmas presents, the tree he brings home is just barely bigger than a set of twigs. Everything seems to be a disappointment, and Charlie finally yells out, “Can anyone tell me what the meaning of Christmas is?” Just then, Linas (initially with his blanky) takes center stage, the spotlight is only on him, and he begins to read the story we’ve read tonight from the Gospel of Luke. He concludes, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” Indeed.

What are we celebrating at Christmas?

His Sovereign rule over all Creation (vs. 1-3)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

From the perspective of the time, it appears that there is no one on earth more powerful than Caesar Augustus. He was so powerful, that he was even seen as Divine by many. What Caesar wanted, Caesar got; it was just that simple. And so Caesar wanted a census of his empire, to ensure that everyone in his empire paid their fair share of taxes into his coffer. No one would be excluded. The world is shaped by such people and their fiats. But then again…. maybe not. Maybe unwittingly, the Caesars of the world are accomplishing the will of God.

One of my mentors, Tim Keller illustrates this sovereign rule of God over human affairs by often saying that he started Redeemer Presbyterian because of Watergate (Sort of). Here’s the story:

  • Tim Keller planted Redeemer Church because he entered a Presbyterian denomination that encouraged church planting.
  • Keller entered that denomination because in his last semester at seminary he took two courses with a professor who convinced him to adopt Presbyterian theology.
  • Keller sat under that professor because at the very last minute the professor arrived at the seminary after having bureaucratic visa problems. (The professor was British.)
  • While that professor was having visa problems, the seminary dean prayed one day about how he didn’t know how they were going to get the professor to arrive, and his prayer partner happened to be a seminary student named Mike Ford.
  • Mike Ford happened to have some clout to get them through the bureaucratic snag because he was the son of Gerald Ford, the sitting President of the United States.
  • Gerald Ford was President of the United States because Richard Nixon resigned.
  • Nixon resigned because a bunch of burglars broke into Watergate and were caught.
  • The burglars were caught because one of them happened to leave a door unlatched to an office they had just bugged, and then a night watchman just happened to walk by and notice the unlatched door.
  • So “if that [burglar] had latched the door,” Keller half jokes to his congregation, “if that door had been closed just two more inches, we wouldn’t be here tonight. Even Watergate happened for you.” (HT: http://andynaselli.com/watergate)

Where it seems that the world is exercising their ultimate authority, it is actually God working behind the scenes of this fiat by Caesar to bring to fruition His rescue plan for the world. For apart from this mandate, the prophecy may not have been fulfilled that said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But precisely because of this mandate, Joseph and Mary are forced to travel there at just that time, when she is ready to give birth to register in the census. Paul writes in the letter to the Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Yes, part of what we celebrate at Christmas time is God’s sovereign rule over all creation. No one, whether it be Caesar, Herod, or anyone on all the earth can ever change that. His plan will come to pass. And yet it does not come to pass the way we might expect. We also celebrate that fact on Christmas. He does not come in a palace, or in a golden crib, He does not just appear and begin performing miracles, but He comes just like one of us.

His Identifying with all of us (vs. 4-9)

This theme is seen all over the New Testament. The writers of the gospels and of the epistles emphasize His title “Son of Man.” He is the Son of David, a real human person, a real human king, but also a real human shepherd (more on that later) that really lived in the flesh.

The parents of Jesus did not come carried on chariot into Bethlehem, nor did crowds greet them with pomp, due to the royal birth coming from Mary. No, rather, Mary and Joseph walked, maybe with the help of a donkey some 80-90 miles all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The terrain was rough as they would be going up and down mountainous terrain the whole way. This is surely not an appropriate way for a very pregnant mother to be to spend her final days. But it is all too human.

So not surprisingly, when they finally do arrive in Bethlehem, Mary’s water has broken and she is going to give birth any minute now. But the small town is so crowded with out of towners registering for the census, that there is literally no place for them to lodge at all. It is only in the stable of a small inn, that there is room. And so there in the midst of the hay, and straw, the filth of sheep and bulls, with those very animals watching, the Son of God is born. He is wrapped in cloths, and laid in a feeding trough for the animals, because after all there is no other place to lay him. This is surely not an appropriate way for the King of Kings to be born. But it is all too human.

Well one might expect that at least, when God decides to make his announcement to the world of this royal birth that the first people he would tell would be the movers and shakers. After all, they could give him connections and get him situated nice and well. That’s how I suppose I would think. But again, Jesus said he came for the underling, the sick, the poor. And so the people God announces his Son’s birth too first are Shepherds. We’ve romanticized Shepherding over the years, but at the time, a Shepherd was looked down upon by the religious authorities. The reason was simple: The religious authorities expected certain standards of cleanliness, and outward purity. But no matter how much a Shepherd may try, He just can’t stay clean. Sheep are dirty and messy and chaotic. In order for a Shepherd to be any sort of a Shepherd, he needs to be with his sheep all the time. He was too busy taking care of them, getting dirty from them, that being clean wasn’t always an option. It is to the outcast, the dirty, the unclean, the blue collar Joes, that we read,

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The Shepherds being the first ones to hear of his birth are the first ones to hear of the ultimate reason we celebrate this Christmas and that is the announcement of His Gospel.

His Gospel (vs. 10-14)

TO US, we are told by the angels, all of US, we need not fear in the presence of God, because Jesus has come. Perfect love casts away all fear the Apostle John tells us, and that perfect love is found in this child, Jesus Christ. From Moses came the fear of the Lord, but from Christ comes great joy before the presence of our God.

FOR US, we are told by the angels that He will be our Savior, coming to live perfectly in our place; FOR US, He will die the death we deserve taking our sins upon Himself and in exchange giving us His perfect righteousness. FOR US, He will rise from the dead, defeating death once and for all, so that we might joyously proclaim, “Oh death where is your sting!?”

And FOR US, this will happen purely and solely by His grace. After the announcement by the one angel of what God is going to do in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself, suddenly an army of angels appears out of nowhere; the light is so bright, that the shepherds are overwhelmed. Thousands of heavenly beings cannot contain themselves; in the most beautiful music ever heard by human beings, the angels proclaim “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He favors!” The one thing the angels highlight above all other things in their heavenly song is that this salvation, this work, this child, this God will save His people, bring peace between Him and them by His abundant favor or grace! For free, apart from any works, God will restore His relationship to His creation!

So getting back to Charlie Brown, a writer named Jason Saroski a little while back pointed out something I’d never noticed before about that scene where Linus declares the gospel to Charlie Brown. As he gets near the point where the angels declare Christ to be Savior, for the first time, Linus drops his security blanket. What was the writer Charles Schultz saying? Schultz was saying that as we recognize our Savior on Christmas, we end up laying down our fears, our sins, our problems. And like the Shepherds before us, we find ourselves now wanting to race to see Him. Like the Shepherds before us, we find ourselves wanting to tell this good news to others. And like the Shepherds before us, we find ourselves wanting to praise His name.

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