Listening to Linus

“I know it’s Christmas when…”

Do you find yourself telling someone that from time to time?

I know it’s Christmas when:

The radio station switches to 24/7 Christmas music.

Lights are up on houses, the decorations are hauled down from the attic and hung on the tree.

The grocery store has eggnog.

Hans Gruber is dead.

Starbucks switches from pumpkin spice everything to peppermint everything.

The list could go on and on.

We all seem to have our moment. It’s a cherished moment for many of us – the moment we see a special ornament, a handmade object, or hear a special song. We encounter a moment that plucks a heartstring.

It’s not Christmas for me until Linus tells me it’s Christmas.

When I was young, before videotape was a household item, long before videos could be purchased on DVD, and a long, long time before a video could be seen with just a couple of clicks on a mouse or remote control, I eagerly awaited the Charlie Brown Christmas Special to come on TV. Today, as an adult, it seems like just a blink of an eye between Halloween and Christmas, but as a youth, it felt like the stretch between Linus telling me to watch for the Great Pumpkin and telling me about Christmas took forever.

Let me remind you of the story: Charlie Brown is tasked to direct a Christmas pageant at his school. Of course, the project turns to mayhem as every one of his peers stubbornly insists that their experience is the true Christmas experience. Lucy has her demands. Peppermint Patty has hers. Schroeder needs certain music. Sally has a list. Everyone knows they need a tree, so Charlie Brown, escaping the clamor, goes in search of a tree.

We all know what comes next – in a moment of vulnerability, he finds a lowly, bent sapling. A branch, really, and not a full tree. His heart goes out to it. He buys it and brings it back to the gang, only to be laughed at and ridiculed somewhat cruelly. His friends, and even his dog, reject him – dismissing him as ridiculous, naive, or just plain stupid for not seeing Christmas the way they do.

But not Linus. Linus stands by his side, holding his security blanket, and listens patiently while Charlie Brown cries out “can’t ANYONE tell me the TRUE meaning of Christmas!?”.

Linus tells Charlie Brown that he can. He steps on the stage, the lights in the room dim, and, under a soft spotlight, he tells the story:

“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 so 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, goodwill toward men.”

It’s a quiet, simple moment. At that moment a young boy steps out and speaks a simple story of good news to a crowd that moments before had been tearing itself apart with their selfish demands. I hadn’t noticed this until today, but when he tells the story he sets down his ever-present security blanket. He’s vulnerable, but calm, speaking softly but with certainty.

And that moment, for me, is when it’s Christmas.

The story is for every one of Charlie Brown’s peers. It’s for bossy Lucy and selfish Sally. It’s for Schroeder and Pig Pen, the prodigy and the pariah. It’s for pushy Peppermint Patty and meek Marcy.

As I read the news and watch our country and world struggle with politics, economics and social structures I see the same story playing out. Demands. Insistence. The certainty that one view is right and the other is complete idiocy. Mayhem and madness, anger and fear.

I wonder where to stand, but then I’m reminded by the clear, calm voice of a small boy on a stage that the story is for me, too.

There is no need to fear. There is good news. There are glad tidings and great joy.

And today, for me, this is Christmas:

I will set down my blanket, too, and stand with Linus, speaking softly, listening patiently, pursuing peace, and keeping goodwill toward all in my heart.

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