More than fun and traditions…
One of America’s favorite Christmas television specials is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It opens with Charlie pondering what Christmas is about. He’s been doing the same traditions he has always enjoyed about the holiday, like decorating and sending greeting cards, but Charlie’s depressed and doesn’t understand why he just can’t get into the Christmas spirit this year.
Many of us can relate to Charlie Brown’s difficulty getting excited about Christmas when we grow up and the magical quality of Christmas fades. As adults we do lots of things to replicate that special feeling we got as kids this time of year. We decorate the house with festive lights and ornaments, bake our favorite cookies, play the classic songs, watch A Christmas Story, and throw holiday parties in hopes of getting that Christmas feeling. (By the way, this is just my personal list. I happen to enjoy all of the above.)
More than a feeling…
But the question remains… What is the Christmas spirit anyway? Is it just a case of the warm and fuzzies? Well, we recognize the Christmas spirit in Ebenezer Scrooge’s change of heart at the end of A Christmas Carol; when the Grinch returns the Christmas goodies to the Who’s down in Whoville; when the townspeople show up to support George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life; and when Buddy’s dad walks out on his career to put his family first, in Elf.
Think of the most heart-warming moment in your favorite Christmas movie, and I’ll bet it involves a character who puts aside his or her own wants, needs and hang-ups to serve others.
Love thy neighbor
These movies reflect the world’s desire for more love, humility, generosity, and kindness, so it’s easy to see that the “Christmas spirit” actually embodies God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. And where I come from, it seems like most people do their best to live out this sentiment at Christmas time. People in the grocery store are uncommonly kind and patient with one another. Charities receive more donations in the month of December than the rest of the year. We give generous gifts, call loved ones, and travel great distances to spend time with family and friends.
But even with these great intentions, people generally slip back into business as usual when the holiday season is over. The world is starving all year long for “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” (excerpt from Luke 2:14, KJV), and in their heart of hearts, they know it! But they just don’t know how to live that out on a daily basis. Let’s face it—it’s tough to lay down our own selfish desires and do for others as we would have them do unto us. The Apostle Paul even struggled with this: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” …“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:19, 25.)
Getting into the Holy Spirit
The world is literally dying for a Deliverer; to be released from bondage to sin and death. If we want the world to know the Truth and the Life they desire to see at Christmas time, we need to show them the Way. It will take our continual transformation into the likeness of Christ—whose wonderful birth we are celebrating. The world needs this modeled for them. They need to see that the “Christmas spirit” is not just a sappy ideal in our favorite Christmas flicks, but a Life that can be lived out with the transforming power of the HOLY Spirit. Take heart. When you boil it down, Jesus’ formula was pretty simple:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)
I want to end by telling you my favorite Christmas movie moment. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, the gang ridicules Charlie Brown for picking out a humble little tree for their play instead of the glitzy, commercially-glorious tree they wanted. Charlie cries out in frustration, “Isn’t there anyone knows what Christmas is all about?!” Linus replies, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” Then Linus takes center stage and recites Luke 2:8-14 to remind the Peanut Gang why we celebrate Christmas.
Transcript: “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 unto 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.'”
Source: Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson. A Charlie Brown Christmas. (1965 TV Special written by Charles Schulz). United States: Lee Mendelson Film Productions and Bill Melendez Productions.