Where Are You, Christmas?

Until fairly recently, I was rather disturbed by the current trend in Hollywood to attempt to take a perfectly good animated show from my childhood and make it into a live-action screen film starring actors who couldn’t cut it in a serious movie. What Einstein thought it a good idea to bring Underdog to life? (I will admit, however, that I was strangely excited at the thought of Daphne in human form when Scooby-Doo hit the big screen, but that was an exception I think any red-blooded male American would make.)

My sentiments have changed, though, at the realization that I actually have a fighting chance at landing a role in what is sure to be one of the next animation-to-live releases from out there on the Left Coast. Get your autographs now. They’ll be worth something one day.

Just call me Charlie Brown.

OK, outside of the obvious common traits of hairstyle, mad athletic skills, and snazzy dress, Chuck and I are like six and seven on the philosophical level, too. And at no time in my life have I felt more connected to the face of Peanuts than I do now. I am living Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.

Hopped up on Sierra Mist about two weeks ago, I made the tragic mistake of going to Walmart on a Saturday afternoon. There I witnessed December’s retail equivalent of a group of hyenas feasting on fresh water buffalo. Hear me now, people. If Darwin were to hang out with a Walmart greeter during the Christmas shopping season to witness the carnage, he’d quip, “See, I was right!”

I watched in horror as otherwise fine, upstanding men and women jockeyed for position in checkout lines to pay inordinately high sums for electronic gadgets to further turn their sons’ brains to mush and midriff-baring apparel selections to ensure their daughters qualify for the R-rated version of Girls Gone Wild. The shopping cart scramble looked like a motorless demolition derby. And in no part of what I saw did a single person look happy, aside from one man with a rather large Jack Daniels holiday gift pack.

Look, I love this season. Advent. The season of preparation. The season of miracles. And I’m trying so hard to believe the rest of the world has faith in those miracles, that the underlying motivation of the store decorations and the lights, the rabid spending and the gifts, is still deeply rooted in a miraculous birth more than two thousand years ago.

But I fear I am wrong.
“Where are you, Christmas? Why can’t I find you?” - Faith Hill
Even gift-giving has become a thoughtless exercise. First came the list; we would make lists of items we desired but would refuse to purchase for ourselves, and we would give that list to family and friends. (Does anyone else find that eerily similar to a bridal registry for an individual?) Unfortunately, the lack of a list would leave the potential gift-giver dumbfounded.

Enter the most stoic of all gifts, the gift card. Basically, the gift card is a costumed attempt at giving money to a recipient without looking like some buffoon who didn’t want to spend any significant effort to actually select a gift of thought and meaning. And unlike traditional presents, the gift card’s recipient knows exactly how much the giver cares—in increments of $5, $10, and $50. (By the way, I usually have a few people on my list every year for whom I just cannot seem to find that “just right” item, and I resort to the gift card. So I am not throwing rocks at anyone who chooses to give a gift card as a Christmas present, particularly if the recipient happens to be me.)

I know it’s cliché to say, but we have allowed the very foundation of the Christian faith to be perverted by the pursuit of the green dollar. Commercialism. Christmas, brought to you by these fine sponsors. Faith and devotion have given way to decadence and extravagance.
“Oh, Daddy, just whose birthday is Christmas? The Bible says that Jesus was born. Oh, Daddy, please explain. I had to ask because you hear so much about Santa Claus.” - The Statler Brothers
Where is Linus when I need him most? I have been waiting for him to take the stage in the empty auditorium under dim lights to remind me of just what we have lost. I need him, under a lone spotlight answering the baffled Charlie Brown, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!’” Words that I have heard for 37 years, but words that beg the impact of delivery from a child at just the right moment to melt the heart of Advent conspiracy theorists like myself. But, alas, I don’t have a Linus.

Or do I?

Last week, I did my obligatory duty as a father and took my place in a pew to see my daughter and what looked like ten thousand two to five-year-olds retelling the nativity story through drama and song. The parents in the audience looked like they might be auditioning for roster spots in the Lindsay Lohan paparazzi. Not necessarily the scene to really put you in the Christmas mood. But then…

My princess stood up with her class, and the choir of fourteen sweetly began singing and signing, “Happy birthday, Jesus,” and I found myself unable to keep my eyes dry. My heart felt like hot coals. I pictured a odorous stable in Bethlehem, a scared teenage mom and her husband of less than a year. I could hear the bleating of sheep and the champing of cattle on hay. And in front of me, I heard angels. Gone were the electronic beeps resonating from the department store cash registers. Silenced were the Scrooges and Grinches of the world. Here it was.

Christmas was here.

This morning, I came to a brilliant realization. (Well, that is only half true. Technically I can’t take credit for it. My pastor made the point, but it was brilliant nonetheless.) It is easy to look at society and see it as dirty and lacking in morality. That the world is too far gone for salvation. That we have abandoned devotion to the reality of Christmas in lieu of the mirage of free enterprise and free speech. That benevolence and charity are photo opportunities and not anonymous gestures of love.

It is easy to picture hopeless.

But think about this. If there was no hope, why the nativity? Why the virgin? Why the star? If there was no hope, why Jesus?

Why? Because there is hope.

Christmas is here.

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.


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