Rev. David Herndon
First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh
December 20, 2015
How many of you have ever seen “A Charlie Brown Christmas”?
Even if you have not seen “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” maybe you will recognize some of the music. Here is just a small portion of one of the songs called “Christmas Time Is Here.”
You might also recognize this next song. Here is just a small portion of “Linus and Lucy.”
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” first appeared on television in 1965, so this year, 2015, is the fiftieth birthday of this animated movie. As the story begins, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed because of all the commercialism surrounding Christmas. Lucy persuades him to direct the Christmas play. Eventually, Charlie Brown decides that the play needs a Christmas tree. Accordingly, Charlie Brown and Linus make their way to the Christmas tree market. They wander past aluminum trees that are painted purple and silver and orange and various other unnatural colors. Eventually, they come to a real tree. Charlie Brown remarks that he did not even know they still made wooden trees.
This Christmas tree appears to be the only real Christmas tree still remaining. Apparently all the other real Christmas trees have been purchased. It is quite understandable why no one wanted this particular tree. It is small. It has only a few branches. Some of its needles have fallen off. It looks nothing like the classic image of a Christmas tree. Unwanted, left behind, overlooked, unloved, abandoned, unappreciated, and forgotten, the scrawny little Christmas tree is an unlikely choice.
But Charlie Brown says, “I like this tree.” So he and Linus bring the little tree back to the Christmas play rehearsal. All the children laugh at Charlie Brown and the unwanted tree. They say, “You blockhead!” They say, “You always mess up everything, Charlie Brown!” Embarrassed, Charlie Brown takes the tree back outside to his back yard where he can decorate it. He places one red glass ornament on one of the little branches. The whole tree bends over under the weight of this ornament. Now thoroughly discouraged, Charlie Brown wanders away.
Meanwhile, all the children had followed Charlie Brown and the little tree. They spring into action and decorate it using the abundant ornaments on Snoopy’s doghouse. In a few moments, the tree is full and radiant. Someone says, “All it needed was a little love.” Charlie Brown returns, amazed, and everyone sings a classic Christmas carol.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a charming and touching story that has stood the test of time. Fifty years after its creation, it can still speak to us.
Perhaps there was a time in your life when you felt like the little Christmas tree -- unwanted, left behind, overlooked, unloved, abandoned, unappreciated, and forgotten. Perhaps you became whole and radiant when you were blessed by the kindness of some stranger, or the love of someone close to you.
Beyond yourself, perhaps you can think of people at the edge of our society who are like the little Christmas tree -- unwanted, left behind, overlooked, unloved, abandoned, unappreciated, and forgotten. Earlier in the history of the United States, our society dismissed people who had been here before the arrival of European settlers, and people who had immigrated from Ireland or Italy or China, and people who were Catholic or Jewish, and people from Africa who were enslaved. Nowadays, people who are Muslim are regarded with that same dismissive attitude. And we still need to be reminded that black lives matter. And we are still making room for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. And we are still learning to welcome undocumented Spanish-speaking immigrants.
Charlie Brown looked at the little Christmas tree that no one else wanted and said, “I like this tree.” In this way, perhaps Charlie Brown acted in accord with the radically hospitable spirit of Jesus, who kept company with many people that no one else wanted. For Jesus, everyone was welcome – tax collectors, poor people, Roman soldiers, poor people, lepers and other people with medical challenges, did I mention poor people, people who had broken the law, poor people, Samaritans, and women. Jesus spoke of the Commonwealth of God as a great banquet table with a place for everyone. For Jesus, every person was a wanted person. For Jesus, every person was a loved person.
The Universalist branch of our Unitarian Universalist family tree deeply affirmed this radical hospitality of Jesus. Back in 1790, when the Universalists were getting started in America, many Christian churches believed that when all was said and done, some people would spend eternity in heaven, while others would be sent to hell -- unwanted, left behind, overlooked, unloved, abandoned, unappreciated, and forgotten. The Universalists denied the existence of hell. The Universalists proclaimed that God’s love was strong enough to bring everyone along into one great human family. The Universalists affirmed that God’s love was neither earned by our good deeds nor lost by our misdeeds. Like Charlie Brown saying that even the smallest, scrawniest Christmas tree was nevertheless lovable, the Universalists said that everyone was worthy of God’s love.
Charles Schulz, the creator of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” was not a Unitarian Universalist. But the Christmas message of radical hospitality that he set forth in this animated movie is a message that we Unitarian Universalists can wholeheartedly affirm and embrace. Fifty years after its creation, this animated movie speaks eloquently of the inherent worth and dignity of every Christmas tree – and every person.
© 2015 by David Herndon