Archive for December, 2010

Welcome to my 2010 Christmas message. This is the second time I have decided to use my blog as a place to share some thoughts about Christmas with a wider audience. I originally did this last year (2009) and a number of people wrote to tell me they really enjoyed it. If you would like to see that message, I invite you to visit:

My 2009 Christmas message

Feel free to share it, along with what you are about to read here, with anyone you wish with my thanks. Now that I have offered a short preamble, let’s move on to the 2010 edition.

“And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, 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 tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and 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, goodwill towards men.” (Luke 2: 8-14 – King James Version)

What do you think of when you think of Christmas? Holiday parties with family and friends? Last minute dashes to the mall for that special gift? Who to invite for Christmas dinner? With so much to do and think about, you can’t help but wonder why they call it “the Holiday season”. Sure, you may get some time off work, but it won’t be much of a holiday. Many people have said that calling the final 2 weeks of December and the first week of January the “Holiday” season is a contradiction in terms – I think they’re on to something here!

One of the most famous and well-loved of the many Christmas season television specials shown every year is “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. First broadcast on the CBS television network on the evening of Thursday, December 9, 1965 this timeless classic (and winner of that year’s Peabody Award for Excellence in Programming as well as the Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program) finds the Peanuts gang wondering what Christmas really is all about.

The show begins with Charlie Brown and his best friend Linus reflecting on the joys of the Christmas season. But for Charlie Brown, he is disillusioned by all the commercialism he sees around him. His sister wants him to write a letter to Santa, and she ends by saying Santa can always send her money. Or as she puts it “How about 10’s and 20’s?” Charlie throws away the clipboard and pen in frustration and disgust. Next, he finds his faithful dog Snoopy, who has decided to turn his doghouse into a light show and then enters a neighbourhood “Lights and Display Contest” for big money prizes (later on, we find out that Snoopy is the winner!). Finally, he turns to the Peanuts psychiatrist, Linus’s sister Lucy. She feels Charlie Brown needs a project, something that will help him forget about the commercialism and discover what Christmas is all about.

Lucy suggests that he should get involved in their school Christmas play, and Charlie Brown agrees to be the play’s director. At first, this seems to be his cure. But soon the old disillusionments return, and Charlie is more depressed than ever. With some assistance from Linus, he even decides to supply a Christmas tree, but when his efforts are laughed at, Charlie finally asks the question we all want to ask: “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about”?

In what may be the climax of the program, Linus walks to the centre of the auditorium’s stage, and after a spotlight is put on him, he answers Charlie Brown’s question with the passage from Luke I cited at the beginning of this message. You can watch it on video at:

Linus Shares the True Meaning of Christmas – from A Charlie Brown Christmas

His words have a powerful impact not only on Charlie Brown but on the entire gang. Charlie responds by taking his little Christmas tree home. As he walks through the snow-covered streets, he looks up at the star-lit sky, pauses to reflect on things and decides that Linus is right and that he won’t let commercialism ruin his Christmas. But when he arrives home and tries to save his Christmas tree by hanging an ornament, it droops to one side. Now Charlie’s depression has hit the bottom and he cries out in despair that he has killed the tree – and then adds that “everything I touch gets ruined”. The others, having followed Charlie Brown out of the auditorium, arrive a moment later, and in the end, they save Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree (with some help from the decorations on Snoopy’s dog house that made him the Contest winner). The show closes with a moving rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.

For me and for millions of people through the years, the program serves as a simple and effective way of sharing the true meaning of Christmas, and is complemented by a wonderful jazz flavoured soundtrack, featuring the Vince Guaraldi Trio, that for many people is just as much a part of the Christmas season as trimming the tree, getting together with family and friends, and everything else about Christmas. Not only does the Trio perform old favourites like “O Tannenbaum” and “What Child Is This”, but the soundtrack features selections composed specially for “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, such as “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Linus and Lucy”. And just to top things off, how about a beautiful arrangement of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”? Not surprising, given that one of Charlie Brown’s closest friends just loves Beethoven. Schroeder is the pianist in the Peanuts cast of characters, so he plays a couple of short extracts from “Fur Elise” while the gang waits for Charlie and Linus to return with the Christmas tree, referring to it as “Beethoven Christmas music”. The soundtrack makes a wonderful addition to anyone’s Christmas music collection, and I highly recommend it.

Ever since that first broadcast, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has become a Holiday tradition for millions of people worldwide, and has been translated into many languages. In fact, for many people (such as yours truly!) it just doesn’t feel like Christmas until they watch the program or hear the soundtrack music – regardless of the time or place. It’s an annual reminder of what Christmas is all about.

In addition to countless memories, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has left us with many legacies over the years. Perhaps the most poignant is noted in a documentary special entitled “The Making Of A Charlie Brown Christmas”, a fascinating behind the scenes look at the program produced by United Features Syndicate and first broadcast by the ABC television network on the evening of Thursday December 6, 2001 (almost 36 years to the day after the original broadcast).As we know, the Peanuts comics (featuring Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy and all the gang) were created by Charles Schulz, one of the world’s best known cartoonists. Mr. Schulz passed away on February 12, 2000, and his death led to many heartfelt tributes from around the world. Among them was when Mr. Schulz was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on June 7, 2001 at a ceremony held in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. As background music during the ceremony, the U.S. Marine Corps Trio performed “Linus and Lucy” as well as “Christmas Time is Here”.

If all this has you interested in learning more about “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, here’s a few Web sites that can help get you started:

A Charlie Brown Christmas – article from Wikipedia
Charlie Brown Christmas – from the Xmas Fun Web site
Charlie Brown Christmas – the Soundtrack Album, an article from Wikipedia
Some Info About A Charlie Brown Christmas from Fact Monster
The Official Peanuts Web Site

Perhaps you are reading this and wondering why I would talk so passionately about “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, to the point where I would make it the theme of my 2010 Christmas message. There are many reasons for this – not the least of which being that watching the show each year, whether on TV or on video (it’s part of my home video collection) brings back many childhood memories. I was 9 years old when the show made its premiere, and even today watching the show makes me think of long ago Christmases spent in places like our family home in St. Lambert ( a suburb of Montreal), with my grandmother in New Carlisle (a small town in Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula about 1000 KM or 600 miles east of Montreal), or at our cottage on the shores of Lake Massawippi in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. In short, Christmas was always a special time for me and my family – something that I looked forward to every year. And still do today!

Here’s another reason why I love the program so much – something which I think speaks not only to me, but perhaps to all of you, my readers. We can all identify with Charlie Brown and his search for the “real” Christmas. Indeed, I really think there’s a lot of Charlie in all of us. Amid the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season, it’s easy to lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.

Where is Christmas when we see decorations and hear Christmas music in our shopping malls even in mid October, when it seems like some stores place Christmas and Halloween cards and similar merchandise side by side? The retail business, of course, will argue that they have little choice but to start getting the Christmas merchandise out on the shelves that early. For them, the real meaning of Christmas is the sound of the cash registers ringing in those sales – especially during that final week or so prior to the 25th as desperate shoppers realize the big day is getting closer and they still have gifts or other items to buy. Statistics have shown that November and December are the two highest sales months of the year, and in many cases, the sales generated over those 2 months can make the difference between profit and loss for the entire year. In some cases, it will even determine if the store will stay in business. As my former pastor, The Rev. Larry O’Connor, used to say, when it comes to Christmas, the retailer’s favourite song is “What A Friend We Have in Jesus”. Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Where is Christmas when our stress levels go off the charts because there’s so much to do before the big day – especially if it’s your turn to have the family over to your house on Christmas Day? So much preparation and so little time in which to get it all done. And if I get another tacky present this year from cousin Bill or Aunt Harriet… you get the idea!

Where is Christmas when all you can think about is the seeming “tug of war” between your family and your spouse’s clan about where you will spend December 25? I can just imagine the following scenario: “C’mon Fred”, says his wife Susie – “We spent Christmas with your family last year. This year it’s my family’s turn”. I’d love to be a fly on the wall and hear Fred’s answer. Does he go along with his wife and agree to spend Christmas with her family, or does he object and potentially create tension between them because Fred doesn’t get along with his in-laws and he dreads having to spend Christmas with them? We’ll never know because this is a fictional couple, right? Maybe so, but it’s a real life situation that happens in many families every year.

Where is Christmas when your workplace has its annual office party, and you know that you have no choice but to attend? Your heart’s just not in it, you’re not interested in socializing with the people you see at the office every day, and you’re too busy with other seasonal things – perhaps including those I noted above. But you’re obligated to go if only because of office politics and the like. If you don’t go, your boss probably won’t be too pleased and you can probably forget about that promotion or raise in pay. The Christmas bonus? We’ll talk about that one! Maybe you got your bonus money already. That is unless, of course, the cheques get handed out at the party! Ah, now there’s the clincher. If your boss is handing out bonus cheques, you have no choice but to be there. I can hear your sighs from here!

Where is Christmas when it’s December 23 and you suddenly realize that you still have 10 Christmas presents to buy and you have only 48 hours left? Do you really want to fight the crowds at the local mall, where it will take 45 minutes just to find a parking spot? Or an hour to get through the line-up and finally get your already maxed-out credit card out of your wallet to buy your presents? Never mind that you’ll feel sick to yourself when that credit card statement arrives in January and you wonder how you’ll pay for it. Or realize that it just might take a couple of paycheques to take care of the outstanding balance.

All this makes me think of what my parents suggested a few years ago about Christmas. They prefer that we not give them presents – as they put it so cleverly: “We would rather have your PRESENCE instead of your PRESENTS (capitals mine)”.

I could, of course, go on with all sorts of “Where is Christmas” phrases about looking for the real meaning of this special time of year, but I think my point has been made. And it’s time to start ending this message to all of you.

As many have said, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”. Sure, I know that at first it sounds like a tacky slogan that appears on many Christmas themed buttons, T shirts or in other places. But it’s more than that. It’s a discovery that I made many years ago, and I hope that if you haven’t already, each of you reading this will too. Christmas isn’t about fighting the crowds at the mall, enduring yet another Christmas office party when you would rather be anywhere else, or determining whether you will spend the day with your family or with your in-laws. Christmas is all about the birthday of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. He’s my Lord and Saviour, my King and my God. Jesus is my Brother and my closest Friend. He’s been there for me every second of my life, and I know He always will be. And I believe by faith that when my earthly life ends someday, that He has prepared a heavenly home for me.

To all of you, my readers, I hope that someday you will make the same discovery that I have. To borrow what my stepfather wrote to all of us, I pray that this year you’ll find the best PRESENTS of all under your Christmas tree – the PRESENCE of Jesus Christ, the One whose birthday we celebrate, and that you will accept Him as your Lord and Saviour. We know that He wasn’t really born in a manger on December 25 – scholars seem to think Jesus Christ was actually born in the springtime. And I examine this and many other aspects of Christmas on my Web site. You can see what I have done by visiting: My Christmas Page

But in the end, it doesn’t matter when or where Jesus was born. Many centuries ago, the Church decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25 and with the exception of Eastern Orthodox and other Christians who celebrate the day on January 7, it has been celebrated on that day every year by billions of people worldwide ever since. The passage that Linus recited as the climax of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and which I quoted at the start of this message is part of the Biblical account of His birth. From the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke to be exact. And while we know it didn’t really happen as described there, the important thing to remember is that it did happen. As another famous Bible verse points out (John 3:16), God cared and loved us so much that He sent His Son to us, and that all who believe in Him would not die, but would have eternal life. Through the coming of Jesus, God became one of us. That’s what Christian scholars and theologians call the Incarnation. And it happened at Christmas time. That’s the real meaning of Christmas – God came to be one of us, and by taking human form in the person of Jesus, He showed us the way to heaven. Linus knew that, and by reciting the passage from Luke, he shared it with Charlie Brown and the others. And if you have never considered making Jesus Christ your Lord and Saviour I hope that some day you will discover the real meaning of Christmas and make your own decision for Him. You’ll never regret it.

Time to start wrapping up the message – complete with Christmas wrapping paper, and a fancy bow and colourful string to hold it all together. Thanks for reading my 2010 Christmas message. Especially to those of you who aren’t Christians – who may come from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or other backgrounds where Christmas is not celebrated and where your spiritual beliefs offer a different interpretation of Jesus Christ or may not acknowledge Him at all. If that’s you, I hope you don’t mind my sharing my faith as a Christian and what I believe this time of year is really all about. I think of December 25 as the birthday of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But I fully respect and realize that it may not mean the same thing for you. And that’s OK. So instead of a Merry Christmas, then let me offer you best wishes for this time of year, when all it may mean for you is the end of one calendar year and the start of another.

Whether you are someone who celebrates Christmas or not, perhaps my message today may encourage you to start your own journey of discovery and faith. There’s no time like today to find out what Christmas is really all about. I hope that over time you can strip away the commercialism, stress and other by-products of today’s Holiday season and make the same discovery about Christmas that I did so many years ago, and that I hope I have shared with each of you in this message.

And as part of your journey, why not visit a church in your area and join millions of others worldwide in celebrating the birthday of Jesus Christ. If you live here in the “Golden Horseshoe” area of southern Ontario, you would like to celebrate Christmas at a church, and have nowhere else to go, then I sincerely invite you to join us at St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Mississauga. It’s been my home church for over 30 years now, and even though I now live in Hamilton, which is about 50 KM or 30 miles west of Mississauga, and don’t go there as often as I once did, it’s still home for me. Especially at a special time of year such as Christmas.

I hope you will join me and my fellow parishioners at St. Luke’s (or if you’re too far away from Mississauga – then at another church near to your home), and let’s discover together the timeless story of Christmas – of angels, shepherds, wise men, the manger, and a young maiden named Mary who said yes to God. But most of all, let’s celebrate the birth of God’s only Son, a Saviour who would open the way to salvation and give the world a new hope and a new chance. And if you are there on Christmas Eve for our 7:30 p.m. service, I’d love to wish you a Merry Christmas in person. For more information about our Christmas celebrations, please visit us at:

Happy Birthday Jesus – Christmas at St. Luke’s

Finally, I wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and my very best wishes to you and yours for 2011. May the New Year ahead be filled with peace, prosperity, health and happiness.

Until next time!!

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