A Charlie Brown Christmas. I’m not sure there is anything more iconic at Christmastime than this.
This TV special just aired for the 50th year in a row this past week. For 50 straight years, people have watched Lucy, Linus, Sally, PigPen, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the gang as they discovered the true meaning of Christmas in the middle of a world that has lost its mind.
But this classic Christmas tradition was almost stopped before it even started. It seemed like nobody thought the TV special would work. Even the producers thought it would flop. They thought it moved too slow. Plus, the special was taking a lot of risks.
For one, there was no laugh track. That was a staple for TV comedies in the 1960s. But Charles Schultz, who created Peanuts, hated laugh tracks and he absolutely wouldn’t budge.
Another risk was using real children as the voices of the characters. That just wasn’t done. Adult actors were always used. But Charles Schultz insisted on using real kids to give voice to his characters.
And then the most controversial decision of all was to include Bible verses. The producers begged Charles Schultz to leave it out. They said, “You just can’t include religion in primetime entertainment.” Charles Schultz’s response was simple. He said, “We can’t avoid it.”
The producers were very worried. Then, a week before the show would air in December 1965, they screened it in New York for CBS executives. When it was over, one of the executives said, “Well, you gave it a good try.”
None of the experts thought it would work. And they were all wrong. This really shows the genius of Charles Schultz. He was able to see what nobody else could see, which is the mark of true genius. He never wavered on his convictions. He knew that it would connect with viewers.
And it did. A Charlie Brown Christmas was an instant hit, and it immediately became an integral part of Christmas for millions of people. It’s been passed down through generations. And it’s still connecting with people 50 years later.
And the reason for its staying power is because it deals with some truths that are timeless. And that’s what we’re going to explore in this series.
For the next three weeks, we’re going to look at different characters from A Charlie Brown Christmas. We’re going to see what they struggled with. And we’re going to see the truths that they can teach us.
We’re kicking off the series by exploring what we can learn from the title character, Charlie Brown himself.
Let me pray for us and then we’ll jump into to the first week of this series. Can you relate to some of that? I can. There have been a lot of times in my life when I said the same things that Charlie Brown said. There have been a lot of times when I asked the same questions that he asked. Think about some of the things he said. He told Lucy, “I am in sad shape.” I can relate to that. A lot of times I look at my life, and it just looks like a mess. I don’t do the things that I should do. I do the things that I know I shouldn’t do. I feel like a failure in so many areas of my life that are really important. I just look over my life and shake my head, because I am in sad shape. Charlie Brown also said, “I know I should be happy, but I’m not.” There are times when I struggle with disappointment and discouragement. There are times when I think that things just aren’t adding up like they could. Things aren’t coming together like they should. And I know I should be happy, but there are times when I’m just not. And then, in one of the most iconic moments from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Charlie cries out in desperation, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
This is the culmination of everything that Charlie Brown was struggling with. And it’s the same thing that I have struggled, and sometimes continue to struggle with. And it’s the same thing that you might be struggling with in your life, too. It’s this feeling of emptiness.
Charlie Brown knew that Christmas was supposed to be a time of celebration. Of happiness. Of joy. But it just wasn’t happening in his life. He knew that he had to be missing something. And in a cry of desperation, he let it all out. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about? Isn’t there anyone who can help me see what I’m missing? Isn’t there anyone who can tell me why I keep coming up empty?”
Charlie Brown was struggling with the emptiness in his own life. But he’s not alone. It’s not just something that a cartoon character struggles with. Think about some of the things that real life people have said. People you’ve heard of. People you know. The famous comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen said, “The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence. “Shia LeBeouf said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m living a meaningless life. I know I am one of the luckiest dudes in America right now. I have a great house. My parents don’t have to work. I’ve got money. I’m famous. But it could all change, man. It could go away. You never know….I have no idea where this insecurity comes from, but it is like a God-sized hole. If I knew, I’d fill it, and I’d be on my way. “Here’s what Nicole Kidman said after winning an Oscar. She said that winning an Oscar “can show you the emptiness of your own life, which is kind of what it showed me. ”Brad Pitt said, “Man, I know all these things are supposed to seem important to us—the car, the condo, our version of success—but if that’s the case, why is the general feeling out there reflecting more impotence and isolation and desperation and loneliness? If you ask me, I say toss all this—we gotta find something else. Because all I know is that at this point in time, we are heading for a dead end, a numbing of the soul, a complete atrophy of the spiritual being. And I don’t want that. “And then one of the most poignant of all. Robin Williams said, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” Of course you remember that he took his own life last year. One of the funniest people to ever live was also one of the saddest and the most empty.
These are all people who made it to the pinnacle of their profession. They made it to the top, in every sense of the word. And yet, in moments of honest reflection, they felt a lot like Charlie Brown. Lost. Lonely. Empty. If we’re honest, there’s a little Charlie Brown in all of us. We all struggle with feeling empty. We think things like, “There’s just got to be more to it than this. Why can’t I seem to find it?”
Some of us are more open about it than others, but it’s a path that we’ve all walked. Some of us are walking it right now. We just feel empty.
The good news is that the Bible talks about that. A lot. Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 2. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” (Colossians 2:8-10a, NIV)
Check out what Paul tells us about Jesus. He tells us that “in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Scripture teaches us that Jesus was God in the flesh. He was fully God and fully human, both at the same time.
If you’re here just checking things out, you might not believe that. And that’s ok. We’re just glad that you’re here. I’m just going to be honest with you about what the Bible teaches and what we believe here at Connect. Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus was God incarnate, God in the flesh. All the fullness of God dwells in Jesus.
And look at what that means for us. Paul said, “in Christ you have been brought to fullness.”
The fullness of God exists in Jesus Christ, and He is the One who brings us to fullness. And the last time I checked, fullness is the polar opposite of emptiness.
Paul says that in Christ, we are emptied of our emptiness. We are brought to fullness. That means that I can’t be filled apart from Jesus.It really sets up a choice. I can choose the fullness of He or the emptiness of me. (I know that’s not grammatically correct, but it rhymes, and I like rhymes!) This is the choice that we have. If fullness is found in Christ, that means I’ll never find it in myself. So I can choose either the fullness of He or the emptiness of me.
So if the choice is so clear, why don’t more of us experience that fullness? Why do we still feel empty? It’s probably because we ignored the first thing that Paul told us. Go back to verse 8. Paul said, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, NIV)
The reason a lot of us still live in emptiness is because we’ve been taken captive by the world’s hollow and deceptive philosophies to cure our emptiness.
Think about it. The world tells me that if I’m empty, I just need to get more. Right? I just need to…
-get more stuff.
-have more sex with more people.
The world’s antidote for emptiness is more.
But if none of that fills the emptiness in your life, then you need to take a different approach. You need to dull the pain. So what you need to do is drink more. Smoke more. Shoot more.
And it never works.
That’s why Paul warned us not to be taken captive by hollow philosophies that depend on human tradition rather than on Christ.
The fullness of He or the emptiness of me. There’s the difference. Am I depending on human philosophies and human traditions rather than on Christ?
Some human traditions are just weird when you think about it. And that’s especially true this time of year. Think about what we do at Christmastime.
We bring dead trees into the house. If you did that in April, you’d be a weirdo. But if you do it in December, you’re totally normal.
We hang socks on the wall or the mantle. And then on Christmas Day, we eat candy out of those socks. If you do that in July, someone is going to suggest therapy. In December, it’s totally normal.
And then there’s this elf on a shelf tradition. Our youngest son, Brock, has been begging for an elf on the shelf, but I’ve resisted. But Brock is smart. He knew how to get the deal done. He asked his grandma, and bam! We’ve got an elf on the shelf. But seriously, does anybody else agree that this thing is just a little creepy? I know we’ve got some people here who are afraid of clowns. This is the thing we should really be afraid of. Now that this thing is in the house, I’m waiting on it to come to life and kill me in my sleep.
There are just some crazy traditions this time of year, aren’t there? But then there are some other human traditions that aren’t just crazy. They are incredibly destructive. And that’s why Paul warned us not to be taken captive by these hollow human traditions and philosophies. And another word for hollow is empty.
Our world gives us all kinds of cures for our emptiness, but the cures themselves are empty. They are hollow. They are hopeless.
And the most hollow, deceptive, empty philosophy of all this idea that we can fix ourselves. We can cure our own emptiness. We can get ourselves out of the mess that we’re in.
Here’s the truth: we can’t.
But here’s another truth: Jesus can.
The fullness of He or the emptiness of me.
I saw a story this week that ranked the most popular baby names of 2015. If someone would have asked me about the most popular names this year, I would have definitely gotten it wrong.
The most popular girl’s name this year is Sophia. The most popular boy’s name is Jackson. And part of what made these names #1 is probably their meanings.
The name Sophia means “wisdom.” And the name Jackson means, “God has been gracious.” That’s pretty cool.
Some people attach a lot of importance to the meanings of their kids’ names. Nicki and I, not so much. We have two boys named Ryan and Brock.
The name Ryan means, “little king.” Not too bad, right? Although sometimes I have to remind Ryan that there is only one king in our castle.
Anybody know what Brock means? It means “badger.” And if you’ve ever met Brock, you know that it kind of fits.
In the ancient world, names meant even more than they do today. Names were everything, and that shows up in the Christmas story in the Bible. If you know the story, you know that an angel appeared to a teenage girl named Mary. Listen to how Luke describes the scene in his gospel. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31, NLT)
Why Jesus? Of all the names that could have been chosen, why did the angel tell Mary to name the child Jesus? Because of what the name means. The name Jesus means “the Lord saves.”
God was telling us what Jesus was going to do right out of the gate. Before Jesus was even conceived in Mary’s womb, we were told what His mission would be. To save.
Now, this is probably obvious already, but I’m going to point it out anyway. People who can help themselves don’t need to be saved.
For example, I doubt that a lifeguard will ever have to save Michael Phelps. The guy has won 22 Olympic swimming medals. When he’s in the pool, the lifeguard can go grab a Coke because the dude does not need to be saved.
People who are self-sufficient, who have everything under control, who know exactly what they are doing don’t need to be saved.
Jesus came to save us because we are none of that. We are not self-sufficient. We don’t have everything under control. And we don’t know what we are doing.
People need to be saved when they are in over their heads. When they are in a mess that they just can’t get out of on their own. And that’s who we are.
Maybe you’ve been to churches before where the people seemed to be kind of arrogant and self-righteous. Here at Connect, we know exactly who we are. We are sinners who need a Savior. That’s who we are. And that means that we know that we’re no better than anybody else. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all sinners who need a Savior. And that’s exactly what Jesus came. He came because He is “the Lord saves.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He lived a perfect, sinless life…a life we could never live. And then He died the death that we should have died. Jesus was crucified as the payment for our sin. God punished Jesus for all our sin, so in turn, we could be forgiven and set free. It’s the most unfair trade in history. Jesus took our sin. We take His righteous perfection.
But none of it has anything to do with us. It’s not about what we have done. It’s not about anything we could ever do. It’s all about what Jesus has done for us. That’s why the very first core value of our church is it’s all about Jesus.
Jesus is the one that sets us free. And Jesus is the one that fills the emptiness in our lives.
Listen to what the prophet Isaiah said about the birth of Jesus, 700 years before He would actually be born. He said, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. [Somebody here today feels like they have just been groping their way through the darkness. You just need someone to turn the light on for you. That’s exactly why Jesus came.]You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. [If you chose a word to describe your life right now, would “joy” be that word? Or would words like “stressed” and “burdened” and “overwhelmed” be more accurate? You need to know that Jesus didn’t come to add to your burdens. He came to take them away from you and to give you joy.] For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. [Somebody here is enslaved. You’re enslaved by your addiction. You’re enslaved by pornography. You’re enslaved in debt. You’re enslaved by the expectations or others. Jesus came to break the yoke of slavery and to give you freedom.] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, [given = gift, nothing we did to earn or deserve it] and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7, NIV)
Are you at peace? Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and His peace has no end. It endures even in the tough times. In the hard times. When life absolutely sucks, the peace of Christ can remain in our lives because His peace is not based on our circumstances. It’s based on Him as our Savior.
That’s why our church is all about Jesus. And that’s why we want you to know Him.
It really does come down to a simple choice. I can choose the fullness of He or the emptiness of me.
Today, we’re inviting you to choose He. We’re inviting you to choose the fullness that comes from being connected to Christ.
If you’re not sure what that means, we’ve got some folks on our Care Team who would love to talk with you. They’ll listen. They’ll talk through questions and struggles that you’re having. They’ll pray with you. They will serve you in any way that they can.
We don’t have to live in emptiness. Hope is actually possible. Peace is actually possible. Joy is actually possible. And it’s all because of Jesus. So let’s celebrate that right now!