Good morning on this the nineteenth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.
Last night my children and I watched the A Charlie Brown Christmas. The seven year old got more out of it than the four year old did, which I think will shock no one. It’s a very interesting short film. It’s fundamentally about the contradiction between the secular holiday of Christmas and the religious holiday of Christmas; as such it is itself just such a contradiction. It is fundamentally a commercial work, and yet its theme is genuinely religious.
Ken Levine has an interesting blog post where he recounts how it came on the air in the form we know it, and it’s not surprising that executives at CBS wanted the part where Linus quoted the bible removed (I recommend you read the whole thing, btw). And yet it is a commercial work, not a religious work. That need not be a big distinction, since Christians do engage in commerce and their christianity should infuse everything they do, but for a great many people it is a big distinction, which is what makes it being a smaller distinction here so surprising. Sometimes, it turns out, someone having an artistic vision does result in better art.
There’s also something fascinating about A Charlie Brown Christmas because it is a deeply melancholy film. There is the counterpoint of the dancing to Vince Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy, which is an extraordinarily fun piece of music. But the driving force behind the plot is how Charlie Brown is unhappy that he doesn’t fit in, and further that he’s unhappy that he’s unhappy since the Christmas season is supposed to be a happy time. Which actually, I think, makes the film work rather well as an Advent film. Consider the lyrics from one of the few Advent songs:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
who mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Charlie Brown is mourning in lonely exile, even if his exile happens to leave him physically next to other people. After all, in the Babylonian Captivity the Jews didn’t all live in the hills; many of them lived among other peoples after they were scattered. And in fact the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas, where the other children partially accept Charlie Brown by way of accepting his tree, then singing Hark! The Herald Angel Sings, also mirrors the refrain of the song:
Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
It is somehow fitting that exiled among the Christmas songs is one Advent song, and exiled among TV Christmas specials is one TV Christmas special which is really about Advent. And both are about being exiled and longing for things to be put right. Well, that’s what Advent is all about, Charlie Brown.
God bless you.