Peace On Earth
By Simon Gonzalez
The director has had enough. All he wants to do is stage a simple Nativity play, but he is plagued by prima donna cast members and harsh criticism of his props.
“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” he finally cries out in anguish.
“Sure,” says one of his actors. “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”
The actor takes center stage and recites some of the most well known lines in 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 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.”
The scene, of course, is from the iconic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The director is Charlie Brown, the actor is Linus and the “lines” are Luke 2:8-14, quoted directly from the King James Bible.
Linus concludes his monologue by saying, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” To which anyone who believes that the Savior was born on that first Christmas would say, “Amen.”
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the longest-running cartoon special, airing every year since its debut in 1965. It’s one of the most beloved television shows ever, and an annual must-see TV event for many.
But it isn’t without controversy. Not then, and not now. Even back in 1965 it was criticized as being too religious. Peanuts creator Charles Schultz had to battle network executives to include the overtly Christian message.
There were assorted other criticisms — it doesn’t have a laugh track, it used the voices of real children, Vince Guaraldi’s exceptional contemporary jazz soundtrack was considered an odd choice for a cartoon — but the biggest one was a network TV program that actually quoted from the Bible.
Tomorrow most Americans will celebrate Christmas. In a country where between 71 to 83 percent self-identify as Christian, surely there will be some at least intellectual understanding that we gather to open gifts to commemorate the greatest gift of all time — the gift of the Christ child.
As the bumper stickers proclaims, Jesus is the reason for the season.
But although this is a country that remains predominately Christian on some level, even that bumper sticker slogan invites controversy. After all, we are a pluralistic society, with liberty and tolerance for all. So lest we offend anyone or appear exclusionary, we replace Christmas trees with holiday trees, and forbid the installation of crèches on public property.
This tends to inflame the passions of the faithful, who rail against the “war on Christmas.” Silly controversies arise, like the color of the cups at certain coffee establishments, the abbreviation Xmas, and retail clerks saying happy holidays — even though those coffee cups have never included an overtly religious message, X is the Greek chi and historically has been used as an abbreviation for Christ, and holiday is a linguistic variation of the Old English holy day.
There’s an irony in all this. Linus proclaimed it when he quoted Luke 2:14. The baby was born in Bethlehem to show God’s good will toward men, and to bring peace on earth. But good will seems to be in short supply, especially if we draw battle lines in the war on Christmas. And peace remains elusive across the globe.
Whether we see this as a festive season where we exchange gifts with loved ones, whether we don’t celebrate at all and are just glad it’s about to be over for another year, or whether we commemorate the advent of the Messiah, we can all purpose to practice more good will.
And perhaps we can reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, and remember that Luke’s words are in the form of a promise. Hopefully we’ll experience a little of the good news and great joy this season, and see in it the foretaste of a time when there will be peace on earth.