Fifty-three years on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” continues to be popular amongst a world plagued with social media and mountains of munchable content. When something maintains such a nostalgic repertoire in a crowded and noisy world it demonstrates meaningful substance.
At Christmas we are drawn towards things of nostalgia and worth. The Charlie Brown Christmas special definitely fits into this category. In the special there is one particular clip that has always struck me, Charlie Brown exclaims “isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”. Following this, Linus takes to the stage under the spotlight tightly holding his security blanket. He begins to speak the words of Luke 2:8-14. “Fear not” (v.10) Linus declares.
In this moment, Linus acknowledges the “good news of great joy” (v.10) that “in the city of David a Saviour” (v.11) is born. He loosens his grip on his security blanket, allowing it to drift away onto the wooden floor. This climatic scene is certainly intentional from Charles Schulz. The reality of the Incarnation and the birth of Christ distances us from our fears. The sinful patterns that we continually lay in bondage to, Christ breaks. The Word becoming flesh means we can drop the false idols we cling to in our lives, clinging and trusting to all Christ has done.
The Incarnation complicates what we think of as a joyful, simple time of year. The Incarnation was the point in history, where the King of all kings, took on himself human nature. For the Christian, to deny the virgin birth would lead logically to denying the bodily resurrection of Christ too. As much as we might not understand all the intricacies and particulars of the Incarnation, we have to continue to uphold its occurrence. This mind-staggering event in the historical narrative of mankind means we no longer need to fear for two reasons – the Christ child would be our righteous representative and a submitting substitute on our behalf.
The Righteous Representative: In the storyline of the Bible, the beginnings of bliss and communing with God in the Garden of Eden was ended by Adam and Eve’s disobedience towards their Creator (Gen. 3). They were humanity’s first representatives. Through Adam’s disobedience we are all guilty; Paul affirms this numerous times in the New Testament in case we thought we got off scot-free. The truth is we deserve punishment for turning our backs on God but Christmas is not a time we want to think about having offended God. Surely we deserve something for participating in the beauty and innocence of the festive season? Although we plea, although we claim decency, we have all fallen short of God’s glory – turning to love created things rather than the Creator (Rom. 3:23; 1:20-25).
Where do we stand then? We stand as sinners. Unable to live up to God’s law; we commit to good and do as much as we can. A valley of fear and anxiety engulfs us as we can never attain perfect obedience unto the Father. But there is good news due to the entrance of Christ into space and time.
Where Adam failed, Christ obeyed. He did not surrender to temptation, he did not sway, he rooted himself in the truth of God’s Word. Christ has obeyed for us, he has become our righteous representative (to those who believe). Adam our ancestor of old failed, but Christ came fully satisfying and fulfilling the law we could have never (Gal. 4:4-5). Christ’s example resulted in justification and life for all men. Through the disobedience of one man the cosmos crumbled, so by the righteous Prince of Peace, corrupted and crushed hearts would be renewed (Rom. 5:18-19). Fear can no longer grip our hearts knowing Christ has perfectly obeyed for us, however, an exchange still had to be made.
The Submitting Substitute: Christ submitted to the Father’s will. From the crib, to the garden, to the cross. Christ committed himself to his Father. But, did he really have to be a man to pay the price for our sin? Surely God could work out some cosmic calculation to ease the punishment that would come upon Christ’s shoulders. Yet, there would be no point in me writing unless Christ was a man who died in our place to take away the penalty and power of sin that was due to us.
The author of Hebrews writes “For surely it is not the angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sin of the people” (2:16-17). Jesus is the ‘merciful and faithful high priest’ who has made provision for our sin. He had to be made like a man, not an angel, to be the propitiation to save men. From eternity past, Christ was the only acceptable substitute. Unless Christ was fully man he could have not paid the price for our sinful selves. We would be left to our own folly and chaos, but this baby would become the mediator: “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
Christ was the only acceptable sacrifice, the baby we acknowledge and celebrate at Christmas would one day make an agonising journey to the cross. He humbled himself above all else to the point of death on that wooden cross (Phil. 2:8). Why? So we might become children of God. Taking the sins of the world on himself, Christ the righteous representative took our sin and reconciled us back to God. Our sinful selves engrossed our minds and hearts with a fear of death, but because of the Incarnation we can proclaim “fear not!” like Linus. Christ has secured eternity for us through his once and for all sacrifice.
If there is anything we need to remember this Christmas its the Incarnation: “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14)- “It was the supreme, mind-staggering miracle; love prompted it; and our part is not to speculate about it and scale it down, but to wonder and adore and love and exalt Jesus” – J. I. Packer.