Grace Presbyterian Church
December 24, 2021, Christmas Eve
Silent Night, Noisy Days
Do you like my shirt?
For those who can’t see this, I’m wearing a shirt decorated with scenes from the perennially popular Christmas television special A Charlie Brown Christmas. There are a lot of different images here, from Linus and Charlie Brown out looking for trees, Snoopy’s decorated doghouse, Linus resuscitating the wilted tiny tree near the end, and even the infamous dance party that breaks out at rehearsal. You can tell these are really taken from the special, because that scene includes such later-forgotten characters as Shermy (“I always end up being a shepherd”) and the anonymous twin girls who never show up again, dancing that strange head-flopping-side-to-side dance that must surely have caused concussions.
It doesn’t, however, include the best scene: answering Charlie Brown’s dismayed cry “Can’t anybody tell me what Christmas is all about???”, Linus takes the stage and, to dimmed lights, recites presumably his lines for the play, which begins with verse 8 of our reading from Luke today. It is easily the most arresting moment of the special.
It is not, however, the only time Linus spoke Luke 2 on television. In 1992 came a second Christmas special, It’s Christmastime Again, Charile Brown. It’s not on the level of the original – it drags in spots and can be strangely repetitive – but it does have one very telling moment that echoes the original.
Sally, the hardcore Christmas materialist, wonders loudly what the whole point of Christmas is anyway – a slanted echo of her big brother’s cry. Linus, who just happens to have his Bible in hand, starts to read from the same passage as before. In this case, tough, Sally is clearly not really listening. At random intervals Sally keeps blurting out random blurts, total non sequitir, drowning out Linus’s earnest reading of the angel’s announcement to the shepherds with such wonderings as whether she could find a gift to give her brother without spending any money. Finally he gives up mid-story in a frustrated huff. Sally responds at the last “Is that all? I thought the Christmas story was longer.”
If that scene from the original Charlie Brown Christmas was the most inspirational moment of that show, this scene from the later program is easily its most real. On some level I think every preacher can relate to that moment this time of year. Seriously, try to speak this snatch of scripture out in the layers of stuff that goes on in the name of “Christmas” out there. Between endless replayings of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” or other such holiday numbers, big parades or parties or goodness knows what, it’s very easy for Luke’s picture to get just as drowned out as poor Linus was by Sally.
We can’t always say the church does much better, though. Tempered by pandemic cutbacks as they might be, many churches surround the event with so much stuff – great big musical presentations, pageants that only serve the purpose of getting people to “ooh” and “aww” at the children – that the message gets drowned out amidst all the stuff attached to the message. It’s hard to sing “Silent Night” in the midst of such noisy days.
With that in mind, I will seek, in this quiet moment, to take my own advice and shut up, and let the story (in Linus’s King James version) be spoken:
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.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): #133, O Come, All Ye Faithful; #113, Angels We Have Heard on High; #123, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear; #119, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; #122, Silent Night, Holy Night!