Do you ever feel like Charlie Brown? In the midst of the Christmas decorations that have been up since Halloween, the Christmas songs stuck in your head, the lights and shopping and cookies and parties—do you ever want to just stand up like Charlie Brown and shout in exasperation, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”
What is Christmas Really About?
I’m sure you’ve seen the classic TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s been airing since 1965. That’s a long time for any movie. Especially for a cartoon that was produced on a low budget and what was basically a last-minute production schedule for animation. It all came about when Coca-Cola came looking for a Christmas special to sponsor for holiday marketing. The cartoon Peanuts was wildly popular, so they asked for a meeting and ideas. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and the producers threw together an outline in a single day, and the Coke execs went for it. Schulz had some unorthodox ideas, like a jazz soundtrack and no laugh track, which was a staple of TV shows in that era. Most of all, he was adamant that the true Christmas story be presented, complete with a scene read straight from the Bible. The TV producers worried that it would be too controversial to read the Bible on national television, but Schulz insisted. Controversial or not, you could say the show was a winning idea.
If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely treat yourself. If you have seen it, you know that Charlie Brown is surrounded by all the trappings of Christmas, but they come up empty. When he wonders aloud what Christmas is really about, his best friend Linus sets him straight with a clear answer straight from Luke 2:8–14. Linus recites the passage in a heartfelt scene that never gets old:
And there were in the same county 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 Savior, 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. (kjv)
In those words, Charlie Brown finds hope. It’s where the whole Christmas experience turns for him as he realizes the true meaning of Christmas. He goes from depressed by the season to inspired by it. He goes from an inward focus of questioning to an outward focus of sharing the season with others.
Today, we can hear the same words of hope as we experience the season of Advent in expectation for Christmas. The point is not to get rid of the trappings and traditions and celebrations all around us but to take a purposeful journey through them to more deeply experience the real gifts of Christmas: hope, love, peace, and joy.
In a season often marked by frenzied busyness, Advent is an opportunity to set aside time to prepare our hearts and help us place our focus on a far greater story than our own—the story of God’s redeeming love for our world. It’s not a season of pretending or covering over—it is a season of digging deep into the what it means that Jesus was born and why his life made the difference.
That is an interesting question. For me, the fact that Jesus was born meant the world could have hope. The birth of Christ is special because he broke a generational curse that goes back all the way back to Adam. But more of that in a minute.
What do you hope for?
Thinking of hope, what statements do you typically hear people make that involve hope?
- I hope it doesn’t rain.
- I hope I get the job.
- I hope the world will be at peace.
- I hope he gets better.
- I hope I pass the exam.
- I hope . . . (you fill in the blank).
Do you notice a theme? The hopes we commonly talk about are characterized by doubt, uncertainty, and a lack of control. We hope for things that may or may not happen. Ironically, this is the opposite of the sentiment of hope we long for! But God’ hope is different. At the core of God’s heart is an affirmation of hope – that’s what his emotions are focused on (not how terrible the world is) – hope for his dream, hope for the world and hope for you and me.
Without God we can’t find hope
The hope we are looking for can’t be reached without God. That is a very controversial statement – a lot of people don’t want to consider that God is necessary. At the 14th International Conference on the Unity of Sciences Rev. Moon reminded us that the secret ingredient to world peace is a connection to God’s heart. The hope of Jesus’ birth was that he would grow up to become a man who could communicate God’s heart to the world. That is why his birth was momentous. Without God, we have no foundation for human dignity and equality.
Rev. Moon stated, “In today’s world, millions of people live in miserable circumstances in spite of tremendous scientific progress, efficient technologies and economic abundance in many places. Many nations live in constant strain and even in a state of war. In most of the world such problems as poverty, illiteracy, disease, violence and crime, drug addiction and mental disorders, social discrimination and inequity, broken families and teenage immorality threaten the future of our planet. Why do anxiety and agony increase constantly, even though many leaders — especially conscientious, distinguished scholars — have been devoting themselves toward realizing a pleasant and peaceful world? The reason is an ethical, moral and spiritual crisis that brings with it mental exhaustion. Traditional value systems are now inadequate for societies that are changing with unprecedented speed. Time-honored ethics and morals are no longer persuasive. Criteria for goodness have been disappearing. At a time when these problems are causing self-contradictions, conflicts and disunity both in individual lives and on the societal level, it is difficult to speak of moral standards or of eternal life.”
Perhaps you have felt at a loss as to how to bring God into the conversation at the water cooler – I know I have. It’s awkward and it can feel like no-one wants to hear and any solution seems so implausible given the crises we face.
Hope in leaping forward to a better future
Rev. Moon went on to say: “If in such a reality there is no room for God, then we cannot expect to fulfill our ideals or to substantiate happiness. God is crucial.
If the absolute God exists, we can be confident (in the hope) that He will conduct a providence for changing this destructive reality. He will advance toward a universal standard of ethics that establishes a reality of mutual joy and prosperity. God is our Parent with only true love for all humankind. The purpose of any calamitous events in God’s providence in the past was never to destroy humankind. Such effects were part of a process for dramatic leaps ahead; the unfortunate effects were to be followed by new and hopeful things to come. Throughout history there have been numerous moments of leaping forward; there have been numerous people contacting the transcendent God at moments of severe oppression by the contemporary society and then leaping toward a better future.
Hope in paradoxical moments
Ordinary moments are not likely to be a springboard for such transformations. Pioneers, through positively digesting paradoxical moments, have been able to surge forward and create new ways of living. Loving your enemy, as Jesus practiced on the cross, may not be easy to understand. But Jesus showed us God’s providence by dramatically changing that moment of being completely denied by the world into a leap of complete positivity. As a result, a new page of resurrection providence was opened.”
I mentioned that Jesus broke a generational curse. I don’t know whether you know what a generational curse looks like? Sometimes events repeat within families or you are told you can’t do something because it’s because it’s beyond anything you could hope for.
Jesus came to do what the first Adam couldn’t and because new possibilities opened up for God and humanity. The Apostle John wrote to the believers:
“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” 1 John 3:2
The birth of Jesus was a leap forward for humankind
We can find confidence in the fulfillment of Christ’s arrival—and in all He has done in millions of lives over time. But we can also find assurance that there is much more to come—that God isn’t done yet! Let this season be a journey of building confident hope as you wait for what great leap forward God will take in the world.
God is working behind the scenes, inside other people or situations. He is working inside our hearts to teach and shape us. Maybe you have been through some difficulty and chaos in your own life this year. Regardless of what outward circumstances look like at any given moment, we can find hope in the fact that God not only works in history but in everyone’s life. God wants you to make a leap forward in this season of hope.
Hope for the Future
While our focus leading up to Christmas is naturally on the birth of Jesus and celebrating his arrival in our world, Advent is also about the future. Advent is not just about preparing our hearts for Christmas but also about preparing our hearts for what God wants to do in 2017, 2020 and beyond. We long for the time when all will be restored and made new.
It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard to wait. But I encourage you to lean in and unwrap the gift of hope today. No matter what Amazon or other stores try to tell you, Christmas has not yet arrived. This is Advent—a season of preparation, waiting, expectation and hope. There is value as well as excitement in patient and expectant waiting. May this be a season of wonder as you discover the gifts God wants to give you this Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace.