How Charles Saved Christmas

There’s a school of thought that credits Charles Dickens, more than any other, with creating the Western version of Christmas as we know it today. (Read more about it in this post from seven years past.) There’s truth to that, but another Charles has done an even greater service to the season. And he used yet another Charles (actually, a Charlie) to do it.

Imagine the 4th of July where no one mentions the Declaration of Independence, the revolution, or even the USA. Or Memorial Day without a reference to veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Arbor Day without trees or Thanksgiving with no gratitude. Even worse, your birthday without mentioning you!

Unthinkable, right? Think again.

No matter your religious affiliation, it’s hard to argue that removing the birth of Christ from the celebration of Christmas isn’t blatantly unfair and patently illogical. It’s also impossible to deny the truth of it.

I went Christmas shopping yesterday. In one store, there was a display of (supposedly) Christmas ornaments. Among their number were included:

  • A Dallas Cowboys football player
  • Grogu, the baby Yoda from The Mandalorian
  • A nutcracker wielding a candy cane as a weapon
  • the Stay Puft Marshmallow man
  • Harry Potter memorabilia
  • Spiderman
  • vehicles of all shapes and sizes and colors
  • Mario and Luigi
  • a lamp made from a shapely leg in fishnet stockings

…and a whole host of other cultural icons, many of which didn’t exist ten years ago and will be forgotten ten years from now.

I don’t question the cultural appropriateness or whimsy or profitability of any of those. They have their place. However, am I a Scrooge or, worse, a right-wing ideologue to ask why there wasn’t one single reference to the events that got this whole snowball rolling in the first place? To put things in perspective, I searched the online list of the 1,126 “Christmas” ornaments sold by Hallmark, purveyor of those insipid Christmas “romance” films, that I confess to watching. It turned up exactly four that had an explicit reference to the Nativity. Sure, there were snowman angels and Precious Moments cuties but only four that referenced Jesus, and then only barely.

That brings me to Charles and Charlie. For over 70 years, “Peanuts”, the comic strip and characters created by Charles (Schulz), has been a staple of American culture and Charlie (Brown) has been its greatest symbol. Back in 1965, those two put a stake in the snow that has since been the sole standard bearer for the cause of “keeping Christ in Christmas.” They didn’t do it by whacking us over the head with a Bible or a Yule log, nor by scolding or judging the culture. They did it with a little boy clutching a security blanket and telling a simple story that has changed the world more than any other event in human history.

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.

I shudder to think what Christmas in America would be like without Charles and Charlie.

Man of the tombs (rerun)

Two years ago almost to the day, I wrote a little story about a man who had a confrontation with Jesus. We don’t know his real name. He is known by what possessed him. I post it again here for a few reasons. First, life is hectic and I need the break. Second, it’s a bit of original writing that, although it first appeared in my other blog, Limping in the Light, finds its more proper place here. Third, with Black Friday approaching, one message I found behind the story takes on greater urgency. I’ll explain in the “afterword” below.


manofthetombsI was free until he came into my life.

I could come and go as I pleased and no one could prevent me.  Believe me, they tried.  Crowds of men would come and try to hold me down, as many as ten men at once.  They seized my arms and legs, leaped on my chest, locked their arms around my neck, thinking they could choke the life out of me.  I threw them aside as effortlessly as a fisherman tosses his nets out over the nearby Sea of Galilee.  Back then, I had the strength of thirty, forty, fifty men.

Sometimes, just to taunt my assailants, I would let them bind me.  I feigned struggle as they wound the chains around my chest, legs, and arms then clamped my ankles in irons.  When they were done and stood back, finally satisfied that they had subdued me, I stared at them with all the spite that was in my soul and shook off the shackles as if they were made of parchment.  My would-be captors ran off in panic.

They were afraid of me.  My strength frightened them.  My freedom threatened them.  They wanted nothing to do with me and that was the way I wanted it, too.  Their fear simply fueled my hatred for them and their common, contemptible lives.

I didn’t want to be anywhere near the people of the Decapolis – my home! – so I raced up and down the hills with abandon, howling my independence by day and night.  But most of the time I ran free among the tombs.  The dead didn’t bother me; they didn’t try to deny me my freedom.

One day, I found myself trembling.

Rumors of a fresh power sailed across the water before the boats driven by the winds over Galilee.  When they reached me, I was conflicted within.  Gazing over the waters from the top of a distant hill, I saw a man standing in a boat.  He stepped out and stood in the lapping water as if he was waiting for something.

He was waiting for me.

Like never before, I was driven to him.  Nothing and no one had ever compelled me like this man who was still merely a distant image.  Yet there was an opposing force inside me that was tearing at me to hold back.

What was this feeling?  The freedom that defined me now eluded me, replaced by an unnamed conflict within.  I could do nothing; I had no will.  Before I was aware of my own actions, I was at the feet of the stranger.  He spoke something in my direction, but it could not have been meant for me.  I didn’t understand his words.

Someone shouted a response in an acrid voice, or rather a chorus of voices that sounded like a mob all screeching at once.  “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  In God’s name don’t torture me!”

The sound came from my mouth.  I felt as if I was standing aside, watching the freakish scene play out before me.  The man the voices called Jesus asked, “What is your name?”  Before I could respond, the voices answered him.  I shuddered as I heard the wretched multitude of tongues growl “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

The voices terrified me, but they were the voices I knew.  It was my voice that spoke next the words that were a betrayal of myself, though I no longer knew who I was.  “Don’t send them away, Jesus.”  Maybe I was trying to convince myself because I repeated it over and over.

There was pity in Jesus’ eyes as he watched me writhing on the ground.  The Legion I feared and needed spoke from my depths, begging Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs that had been my only neighbors when I wandered these hills.  Jesus bade them go and they destroyed those pigs just as they had laid waste to my life all those years.

The citizens who wanted nothing to do with this wild man who ran naked among the tombs made it clear that they wanted less to do with my savior.  When they came out to drive Jesus away from their homes, they found me seated at the feet of Jesus, where I’d belonged all my life.  No matter where I would go, I would forever be his.

I was free indeed.

There is a literal meaning to this story, a tale of one man’s spiritual bondage and redemption. But, as with so much of scripture, there is a lesson for all of us, too. You can read my explanation of that lesson here in the post that followed this one in LITL. I commend it to your attention.

What’s *your* story?

storyI love Jesus. Not just because He loves me and died for me, although that’s pretty cool and would be enough. I also love the fact that He’s a master storyteller. When people ask Him profound theological questions, He usually tells a story. It’s almost as if He’s trying to evade the question. Rather, I think, He’s getting to the heart of it.

Ask a theologian to tell you what the Kingdom of God is and you’re bound to get a tedious multi-volume treatise on the ins and outs of Jewish culture, a summary of a couple millennia of church history, and a detailed exegesis of Greek New Testament passages. Ask Jesus and you get a story about one of the following:

  • Some sad old woman who spends the whole night looking for her spare change in the sofa.
  • A farmer who’s having mixed success with his crops.
  • A sleazy middle manager who makes good by cheating his old boss.

legoparableThe parables (fancy theological word for stories) of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are more than tales that have become part of the nerve fiber of our culture. They’re great stories.

Why does He tell stories? Because people listen to stories. Sermons? Not so much. Even those of us who listen to sermons don’t always listen. If you know someone who’s heard a sermon recently, ask her what it was about. You’re more likely to hear about the joke the preacher told or the simple family anecdote that illustrated a forgotten moral lesson.

We’re wired to listen to stories. No matter what the era or the dominant philosophy thereof, people love and crave stories. They used to be told around campfires and now they’re seen on a phone or in a cineplex. No difference. It’s the story, the people, the ups and downs of fortune, the clawing after the goal, the battle of good vs. evil, the boy-meets-girl, the life-and-death struggle.

cleaversOne reason I believe stories resonate so well with us all is that we somehow, without even thinking about it, realize we’re in our own story. You might not be a writer, but you’re writing your life story. You’re the lead, the hero. That doesn’t mean you have to be Indiana Jones or Aragorn. It might be enough to be June or Ward Cleaver.

Most of our stories are pretty boring. They’d make lousy movies. Hitchcock was quoted as saying, “Movies are real life with the boring parts cut out.” By that criteria, most lives would make brief movies indeed, more like music videos or even commercials.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

What if your life was interesting enough to be made into a miniseries? Or a sitcom that runs 20 (or more) seasons? What’s to stop it? You’re the writer. You might have no pen, pencil, laptop, or vintage Underwood, but every day you’re writing the story of your life with your words, your loves, your priorities. Some day this volume of that story will end. (Lord willing, there will be a sequel.) Meanwhile, make it interesting, something worth telling. Something people want to hear.

Including you.