I wonder if any of you, before you came tonight, watched the TV tribute, It’s your 50th Christmas Charlie Brown. It aired for the first time around Thanksgiving, but not surprisingly, they picked Christmas Eve to rerun it in honor of this year’s being the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Along with documentary footage and clips from the original show, it includes performances of the songs by people like Pentatonix and Sarah McLaughlan.
Whether or not you watched the tribute, I’m betting nearly everyone here has seen A Charlie Brown Christmas itself. And I’m betting you remember the premise: near the beginning Charlie Brown gets in a funk and laments, “I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy.” And so he goes on a search for the reason behind what we’re doing here tonight.
It’s amazing how a cartoon show has proved so unforgettable. Schroeder playing Jingle Bells on the piano for Lucy, Sally writing Santa a letter that ends, “make it easy on yourself: just send money,” Charlie Brown seeing his sad little tree collapse under the weight of one ornament and exclaiming “I killed it,” and of course Linus, sucking his thumb and clutching his ever-present security blanket from which he can’t bear to be separated. (Did you know we owe that concept to Peanuts? It has an older use as a military term, but only thanks to Linus did “security blanket” come to mean something you hold onto to provide psychological comfort and ease your fears.)
Linus: he steals the show, doesn’t he? Charlie Brown’s in complete despair at his inability to get anything out of this season, he cries out for somebody to tell him what Christmas is all about, and Linus steps onto the stage of the school play to recite what? Tonight’s Gospel, which we just heard proclaimed by Deacon Chris. They were nervous, even 50 years ago, about putting so long a passage from the Bible on TV. Too controversial. But Charles Schultz’s long experience of personally studying and even teaching Scripture won out, and we heard the Word of God loud and clear. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Today Advent moves to the day nicknamed Rose Sunday or Gaudete (which in Latin means rejoice, and comes from the first word of our Epistle today as well as from an older introit.) Last week we heard, both in our Gospel and in our intergenerational event, about John the Baptist, who always gets a two-week run in our lectionary. This week shows us the more intense and fiery side of John. So let’s be clear that, for example, while the Episcopal church recommends inviting people to worship with you over the Advent and Christmas seasons, we do not recommend referring to them as a “brood of vipers.” That is what would technically be called a “Bad Evangelistic Strategy.”
Isn’t it interesting, though, that when the crowds hear these strident, judging words from John, this is their response: it says, “all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” That was the buzz on the street: “That John the Baptist guy is raking people over the coals. He’s really making me feel bad about myself. Do you think he’s the Son of God?”
It will be 15 years ago this January, but I still remember exactly where I was when I heard that my mother had died. I had just been to see her in Nashville, and I’d said goodbye and thanked her for being a wonderful mom, because I could tell she didn’t have much time. The day after I left, she left too, and I remember standing right at the border where my living room met my dining room, listening to the typically matter-of-fact phone message from my father and then calling him back to hear the whole story.
It will be 21 years ago this spring, but I also remember exactly where I was standing when I heard that I had been officially approved for ordination as a transitional deacon (in the more catholic traditions, those called to the priesthood have to serve as deacons for at least six months first.) It was spring semester in the year that Mark and I spent outside Chicago in Evanston, at Seabury-Western seminary, and I was looking out the row of windows from our small student housing apartment into the courtyard.
I even remember the way the voice mail ended, because our diocese had just hired a new secretary to the Bishop who had no experience of the Episcopal Church at all, and she didn’t quite understand that becoming a deacon was different from, say, getting a job promotion, and that there would be a big ordination liturgy at the Cathedral coming up several months in the future. So she delivered the news that the Standing Committee had voted to approve me, and then hesitantly said, “So, congratulations... you are now... a deacon!” (Very upbeat, I thought, but needs a little more training.)
I’m sure you, also, could name occasions in your life where you can still remember every detail. Whether it was tragic news or joyous news, a world event or something very private, we’ve all known experiences that have a way of rooting us in the moment, in very concrete specifics: exactly where we were standing, what the weather was, who was with us, what song was playing. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic situation; sometimes the situation is very ordinary. But it’s as if when reality truly breaks through to us – when the distractions and abstractions that pull us away from being present lose their power and we come awake – when reality breaks through, our whole beings take notice. Here and now, it’s actually happening.