First Lesson: Isaiah 9: 2-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 96
Second Lesson: Titus 2: 11-14
Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 1-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Author Barbara Robinson tells the tale of the Herdman children1. We all know kids like the Herdmans. The Herdmans were the type of kids that Mom didn’t want you to play with growing up. The Herdmans were unsupervised children who traveled all over town creating mischief. You think of something that a kid would do to get in trouble then the Herdmans probably did it. The Herdmans lied; they stole, they swore, and they even set fire to their neighbor’s’ tool shed. Teachers kept passing the Herdmans along in school, because no teacher would ever want to put up with two Herdmans at the same time.
One day though one of the Herdmans (Leroy Herdman) hears something that changes his life forever. Leroy hears from one of his classmates that they could get all the free desserts that they ever wanted if they went to church. The Herdmans begin to show up at church every Sunday. Church didn’t initially change the Herdmans though; their behavior remained as rough as ever. The Herdmans would take from the offering plate as it was passed in front of them, they stole and drank all the wine from the Communion jug, and they even smoked cigars in the church bathroom.
The troubles between the Herdmans and the church were just beginning though; soon casting would begin for the church’s annual Christmas pageant. Most of the kids were bored by this, figuring it was the same story with the same people in the same parts every year. This year would be different though as the Herdmans wanted to take part. The Herdmans landed all the parts through the only ways they knew how in bullying and intimidation. All the characters from Joseph to the Wise Men to Angels were going to be played by Herdmans. The most interesting casting choice though was the meanest Herdman of them all in Imogene Herdman was going to be playing Mary.
The whole church gets in an uproar upon hearing this news. No one was going to dare to let their infant play Jesus so that he could be taken care of by the rough and tumble Herdmans. Everyone in the church assumes that the Christmas pageant starring the Herdmans will be a disaster.
The evening started off according to predictions as the Herdmans went off script, not knowing the Christmas story all that well. The Wise Men thought the gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh were stupid, so they decided to bring the Baby Jesus a “Ham” instead they received from the church’s welfare basket. Mary starts burping a “baby doll” just like it a real baby. The Wise Men fail to exit the stage at the proper time. The Angel gets mad at the audience so to get them to quiet down starts yelling “Unto to you a child is born.”
Something happened though over the course of the pageant, and it was the most unlikely of outcomes. The Herdmans begin to get the meaning of the Christmas story. The Herdmans begin to realize that this birth about which they knew nothing was special. Mary shocks the audience when she begins to cry on stage. Mary played by Imogene Herdman had dealt with years of feeling broken not quite right with the world. It was on stage that Imogene became overwhelmed by the depths of God’s love for her. The meanest of girls had come to realize the meaning of grace. The meaning of grace is that God forgives even when we might be unable to forgive ourselves.
The Herdmans story is a humorous portrayal of the Christmas season, the idea of the rough and tumble being at the center of God’s story has some basis in reality.
Let’s look at the main characters in our Christmas story for tonight as we see how they’re not that different from the rough and tumble Herdmans.
Let’s start with the Shepherds. Shepherds did not possess high esteem in the days that Luke wrote his gospel. Shepherds were considered to be one step above the sheep that they took care. No one desired to be a shepherd. Shepherds spent their nights lying in the field, where food was often lacking. The role of shepherd tended to fall to the youngest and weakest son. The shepherd was the son who wasn’t going to receive any land out of the father’s inheritance. Being a shepherd was a job that tended only to appeal to the anti-social. Being a shepherd only made sense if you had no desire to have children on your own. Shepherds were the type of family members that every year, you hoped would finally get their act together.
Let’s look at Joseph. Joseph was a mere common laborer, a carpenter more of a grunt than a master builder. Joseph’s bank account probably had very little in it. Joseph’s contributions to the synagogue were probably quite meager. Joseph was such a sub-standard provider for Mary that he didn’t even have a safe place for her to give birth.
Finally, we get to Mary. Mary was merely a girl about the age of thirteen. Mary didn’t stand out from the crowd in that she was no great beauty, no great talent, or didn’t even possess extraordinary piety. Mary even lacked any sort of socially acceptable explanation for her pregnancy2.
These were the people that were the cast of characters at the scene of the Lord’s birth. If you took a photo of this scene to put on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, people might have pictured this baby’s birth as evidence of all that is wrong with society.
Perhaps there is something to say for Jesus being born amongst the people who most desperately need him.
What we can take from our message tonight is that we know the Shepherds, we know Mary and Joseph, and we know the Herdmans. To all these people a savior has been born on this evening.
The thing about the Herdmans is their role had a genuine skepticism attached to it by people who had experienced them before, people who couldn’t believe that the future could be different3.
The future is different. At the center of our story tonight is a helpless baby. Tonight, we hear a story of how God became powerless, how the word became flesh to dwell among us4.
Martin Luther one time gave a sermon on Christmas and the Shepherds roles within it when he explained the Holiday quite well. I read Luther’s words on this evening.
“The Christian faith is foolishness. It says that God can do anything and yet makes himself so weak that either his Son had no power or wisdom or else the whole story is made up.”… “If I had come to Bethlehem and seen it, I would have said: ‘This does not make sense. Can this be the Messiah? This is sheer nonsense.’ I would not have let myself be found inside the stable5.”
What we hear tonight is that God came into the world amongst those living at the bottom of it. The Angel announced Christ’s birth to the very people you wouldn’t have expected to hear it.
What this background says as we gather here on this night is that some force is bringing us together here. I believe that the Lord has led you here: whether you were nagged or attended out of “family obligations”. The Lord led you here tonight so you may see that Christmas matters because The Cross and Resurrection matter. Christmas matters because “New Life” has been breathed into an old and dying world at a manager in Bethlehem. Amen
1 Robinson in 1971 wrote The Best Christmas Pageant Ever published by Harper& Row. The Best Christmas Pageant ever serves as the motivation for this evening’s sermon. H/T to my mom Joan Carlson a retired middle school English teacher from North Branch, Minnesota for giving me this sermon idea.
2 This description of the Holy Family was inspired by an article written by Matt Fitzgerald published over at The Christian Century on December 19, 2014 entitled “God among the imperfect”.
3 An excellent faith-based commentary on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever can be found at classbookworm.wordpress.com published on December 24,2012.
4 John 1:1-18
5 These quotes were found in an article published by David Zahl at mbird.com (Mockingbird) in an article entitled “Martin Luther on Christmas” published on December 14th, 2010. These Luther quotes come from a Christmas sermon on The Shepherds.
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
In 1965, the Coca-Cola Corporation primarily as a means for advertising commissioned Cartoonist Charles Schultz to create a Christmas special. Charles Schultz then began to create a vision of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Schultz embarked on the project not merely wishing to entertain, he insisted if he was going to attach his name this special was going to be about some sort of deeper meaning. Charles Schultz wanted to craft a special that captures the melancholy or bitter sweetness of the Holiday season faced by so many people. To add to the realness of the story, Schultz insisted that there be no laugh-track so the story would develop organically. Schultz also insisted upon having children rather than adults do the voices (unheard of at the time) as a way of emphasizing the lack of polish he wished for his characters to convey. But the ultimate request that Charles Schultz made to CBS was that a reading of the Nativity Story from the Gospel of Luke be included. Executives were reluctant of the overt religiosity of a special that dared to include a 51 second reading from the King James Bible. Executives after A Charlie Brown Christmas sneak previews were convinced that this would be the last Charlie Brown special because it was going to bomb, so bad. They would have taken it off the air, yet it was already on the schedule with the backing of one its biggest sponsors in Coca-Cola. Yet a Charlie Brown Christmas was a smash hit. Half the TV’s in America were turned into it; it won Emmy and Peabody awards later that year. The same special in 2010 was a given a five year extension by ABC taking it up to 50 years of Christmas viewings. A Charlie Brown Christmas is the definition of a Holiday Classic. What I wish to talk about tonight is the reasons for its popularity.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is popular because Charlie’s experience is all of our experiences. Charlie comes to the Holidays living in a painful place, feeling isolated from the world around him, it’s the story of feeling sad on what is supposed to be the happiest of occasions, yet it is in the midst of all this that Charlie Brown through his friends Linus receives the surprise of Grace. It was in the magical 51 seconds of a reading from tonight’s Gospel from Luke 2nd Chapter that the Charlie Brown was lifted from his gloom and his existence changed forever.
For those unfamiliar of not remembering the story well, A Charlie Brown Christmas tells the story of a depressed Kindergarten boy on the eve of Christmas. Charlie couldn’t understand why he wasn’t in the mood for the Holidays. Charlie had a hard time grasping why he felt like he did with everyone around him seeming to be so happy. Charlie on the advice of his friend/enemy Lucy agrees to direct a Christmas play as a means of trying to get into the Holiday Spirit. Yet Charlie’s leadership soon encounters kids who seem more interested in just trying to have fun then discovering the true meaning of the season. Charlie figures the only way to fix the cast’s attitude, with the play, is to go purchase a tree. Lucy gives Charlie the suggestion of purchasing the biggest, shiniest, pinkest tree in the lot. Yet when Charlie gets to the Tree Lot a certain tree stands out to him, the only real tree in the lot. Yet this tree was not a beautiful tree it was a wimpy tree, a weak tree, a dying tree. Yet there was something about this tree that captivated Charlie Brown. The Tree was a metaphor of how Charlie Brown saw himself. Once Charlie returns with this puny tree, he is instantly laughed at. Lucy couldn’t believe how dumb Charlie would be to purchase such an ugly tree. This last bit of mockery began to break Charlie Brown down. Charlie had come to the point in his life where he viewed everything he touched as a disaster. The cruelty of the children around him caused Charlie to eventually break down as a he said in a tone of agony, “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Then out onto the stage walks Linus. Linus was an interesting choice to read the Christmas story in front of an audience since Linus whole existence was marked by a lack of self-confidence. Linus was known by everyone else around him for his famous security blanket, which people thought of as being silly, childish, and unnecessary. Yet Linus needed this blanket as something to grasp so that when he was weak and heavy laden, he could be given comfort and rest- Matthew 11:28.
So as soon as Linus steps onto the stage- he reads Our Gospel Lesson.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9 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.10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
As soon as Linus proclaimed to Charlie Brown the true meaning of the Holiday. Charlie Brown was given a new sense of purpose. Charlie decided to pick up his fragile little tree, and then walk home. After hearing Linus’ words, Charlie decided that this tree was important because it was his tree. Charlie wasn’t going to abandon his tree; he was just going to keep on loving his tree. In the meantime, moved by Linus’ reading as a critique of their selfishness the Peanuts gang follows Charlie Brown home, where Linus upon seeing the tree standing before him proclaimed another word of Grace as he says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little bit love.”
Linus saw hope where no one else saw it in the scrawny, little tree. The Peanuts Gang then decorated the tree revealing its beauty and self-worth, right before singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing“ together as the show closed.
As a way of illustrating the impact of this special on the American public about the weak, little tree. One thing that should be noted for anyone born in 1979 like myself is that a very popular trend of the early 1960’s was skipping real Christmas trees for brightly colored aluminum ones hence the pink trees being prominent in the special. But when viewers saw Charlie Brown stand by his tree in spite of its ever diminishing life span, it caused the aluminum tree market to collapse. Hence aluminum trees were no longer being manufactured just two years after A Charlie Brown Christmas first made it on the air.
The story of Charlie Brown brings us to our Gospel lesson for today. It’s a message to the Charlie Brown’s and Linus’s other there. It’s a message that Jesus Christ was born as a way of bringing good news to those who have been beaten down by self-doubt, anxiety, and despair. It’s a message to those who see in the mirror everyday all the ways they’ve fallen short, for not being pretty enough, rich enough, tall enough, or strong enough. It’s a message that seeks to break down the fake human masks that we tend to portray for all the world to see versus the weakness of our very reality as emphasized by Charlie Brown’s little tree. It is a message that seeks to reach those who feel forgotten and abandoned by the world. It is a message about Shepherds, the people who occupied the very margins of society. Shepherds were considered to be the type of people who society had given up on yet. Yet when the Angel comes to them it illustrates that God does not give up, when others around you do.
For born this night was a baby lying in a manager wrapped in swaddling clothes as a mere mortal, the Son of God was born in a feeding trough. It’s a story which proclaims that Jesus is being born amongst those who least expect it. It’s a tale that says when you’re like Charlie Brown and about to give up as you’re broken by the world, broken by your own sin, to remind you that God does not give up on you. God sent his own son into the world, born of a Virgin. So that as a many as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ- Galatians 3:27. The message of tonight is we are all ultimately Charlie Brown. So that even when we are afflicted by that which occurs around us this Holiday Season or the months that come after it, we know that we are not alone in this world.
Be assured that on this night a baby was born to be your savior. This baby was born to unexpected parents in the lowliest of places of a feeding trough. This Baby was born to embrace you in the midst of your failure, and never let you go. This is the story of A Charlie Brown Christmas and this is our story for tonight. Amen
 Cavna, Micheal. “ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas 2012’: The gospel truth behind how tonight’s ‘Peanuts’ special became a beloved holiday classic. Washingston Post. 28.Nov.2012. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Cavna, Micheal. “ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas 2012’: The gospel truth behind how tonight’s ‘Peanuts’ special became a beloved holiday classic. “
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts”. National Review Online. 25.Nov.2011. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts.”
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts”
 Marciuliano, Fransesco. “6 True Facts about ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. Smosh Online. 3.Dec.2012. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Cavna, Micheal. “ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas 2012’: The gospel truth behind how tonight’s ‘Peanuts’ special became a beloved holiday classic.
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts”.
 Johnson, Matt. “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.” Resurgence Online. Mars Hill Church-Seattle, WA. 21.Dec.2012.Web. Dec.11.2012.
 Schneider, Matt. “That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts, Pt. 2.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 7 Dec.2012. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Schneider, Matt. “You’re a Hopeless Case, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 18.Jan.2012 Web. Dec.10.2013
 Schneider, Matt. “You’re a Hopeless Case, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts.”
 Schneider, Matt. “That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts, Pt. 2.”
 Marciuliano, Fransesco. “6 True Facts about ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
 Satterlee, Craig. A. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]”. Working Preacher. 24.Dec.2012. Web. Dec.11.2013
 Satterlee, Craig. A. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]”.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.