Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown
As the holiday season approaches, we’re all visited by childhood memories of Christmas past. I’m thankful that mine are those of candlelight church services, home-cooked meals, and time with family. My parents didn’t have the means to gratify every sugar plum vision that danced in our heads, but Christmas around our house was special all the same. Christmas and birthdays were the two occasions my parents designated for gift-giving. Bonus rounds were Easter, where a candy-laden basket awaited us on Sunday morning; and Tooth Fairy visits, where net gains averaged around 25 cents per tooth.
One of my favorite Christmas memories was that of my dad arriving home with the family Christmas tree. We rarely purchased a tree, but made use of the few acres of farm land that my grandmother owned out in the country. Armed with a shovel, bucket, and a bundle of twine, my dad would dig up a tree – usually a cedar – and bring it home. We would cover the bucket with tin foil, decorate the tree, and my dad would plant it after the holidays. (He was eco-friendly decades before it was cool!)
I’ll never forget the Christmas he pulled into the driveway with what we dubbed the “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.” My siblings and I were self-proclaimed experts at determining if the evergreen houseguest he brought home each year was ornament-worthy. One look at this scrawny arrangement of branches in a bucket, and our verdict was a unanimous, “No!”
But for some reason – a reason we wouldn’t understand until years later – my dad liked this tree and insisted that we keep it. After Christmas when our street was lined with discarded trees shedding needles and stray pieces of silver tinsel, he planted it. The humiliation we had experienced in the privacy of our home had moved outside to the front yard. As children with a sense of Christmas tree pride – and a cousin next door who was a bit competitive about such things – this public shame was almost more than we could bear.
Our fragile egos recovered, however, and the next year my dad redeemed himself and brought us home a proper tree. We almost forgot about the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. And then something akin to a Christmas miracle happened. That little cedar began to grow and take shape. A few years later, it had matured into a towering masterpiece that would rival any tree displayed in a store, much less in our cousin’s living room. My dad adorned it with hundreds of lights and lit it every Christmas in the years that followed – 40 to be exact. People from all over town came to see it. Finally, the Christmas after my mom died, my then 89 year-old dad decided it was time to pull the plug on the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.
For those of us who grew up watching the Charlie Brown television specials, we’re well-acquainted with the title character who was consistently the underdog. He never got to kick the football, and on Halloween he was the crestfallen trick-or-treater who went home with a bag full of rocks. At Christmas he continued his legacy of never-getting-it-right. When given the task of selecting a Christmas tree for the school play, he browsed through an impressive inventory of aluminum trees only to choose a small, spindly one that was ridiculed by his classmates.
My dad always had a place in his heart for the underdog. If he was watching sports on television and didn’t have a favorite team, he would pull for the team that was losing. His compassion for those less fortunate was never more evident than around the holidays. Each year he set out gifts by the roadside for the garbage collectors. One Christmas he had us to gather the toys we weren’t playing with anymore, and he took them to a needy family. So when he, like Charlie Brown, was drawn to a little tree that would have been passed over by everyone else, we weren’t all that surprised.
An Old Testament story that contains a hidden Christmas message is the account of Samuel the prophet anointing David as king. In I Samuel 16, God told Samuel that one of Jesse’s sons was to be the next king of Israel. Saul, the current king, had failed as the leader of God’s people. Though he was a head taller than everyone else, his heart wasn’t right before God. David, on the other hand, was the runt of the litter whose job was to watch his father’s sheep. Jesse had his older sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel declared that that none of them had been chosen. He had to ask Jesse if he had any other sons. Jesse was so sure that God wouldn’t choose the youngest and the smallest, that he didn’t even have David there for the lineup!
When David was presented, God spoke to Samuel and said, “He’s the one.”
God saw something in David that no one else could see. He saw his potential, and more importantly, he saw that David’s heart was completely surrendered to Him.
At Christmas, if we only recognize Christ’s coming without celebrating the manner in which he came, we miss something important. Jesus didn’t arrive in strength and stature like David’s older brothers, but in weakness and humility as a child. If we had seen him as a Christmas tree in the forest, perhaps we would have passed him by. Maybe that’s why many of His own people did. They were expecting a warrior intent on defeating their enemies. Instead, they got a king intent on winning their hearts.
When life’s disappointments leave us feeling misunderstood, overlooked, and left out, Christmas brings us good news. God sees our value, even if others don’t seem to. The casual observer would have missed it that first Christmas. It would have been easy to take in the sights and sounds of that cold, dirty stable and conclude that Jesus was just an unfortunate baby whose parents couldn’t provide better accommodations. Those who came to worship him saw past all of that and saw something more: they saw God’s chosen one, the King of Israel.
The Charlie Brown Christmas tree still stands in the front yard where my dad planted it all those years ago. Someone else owns the property now, so one day it may not be there anymore. But the lesson that it taught us will live on in our hearts forever.
And that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about.
About Jan Hemby
Book Marketing Manager
Jan is available for personal appearances and interviews; contact Becki Brannen (info above) to schedule.
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