The Son of God has a belly button

I have been struck this week with the incredible inclusivity of Advent. Consider the course of salvation chosen by God. He became a human. Let that sink in for a moment. Of all the possible ways God could redeem his creation, the one he chooses is the incarnation. He becomes one of us.

And how does he do it? He doesn’t walk out of the desert with power and glory. He doesn’t descend on a cloud announcing his arrival. He comes as a single cell in the uterus of a woman. For nine months he grows and develops a heart, lungs, fingers and toes. The Son of God has a belly button! He experienced the birthing process. He cried in the night for feeding. He learned to walk and had to be potty trained.

And he wasn’t born into a palace or privilege. He was born to a young girl and a carpenter, the working class. He was born beside the animals, sheep and donkeys. And when his birth announcements were sent, who received them? Shepherds. Men and boys watching sheep that probably did not belong to them. These are the ones to whom the angels announced the savior’s birth.

The inclusiveness of Advent is striking? Jesus became one of us. He shares our experiences. Consider how much honor this puts on simply being human. He came to the simple life of a working family surrounded by simple people. Rough men like shepherds. Foreigners like the wise men. A family struggling with infertility and doubt like Elizabeth and Zechariah. He was born, grew up, struggled and was tempted. He experienced joy and pain. He lost people. He experienced sorrow and fear.

It is incredible to me to consider what this means. The story of advent includes all of us. It is not a restrictive story. There are no prerequisites to be a part of this story. You were born. You are human, a part of God’s created order. Therefore, you are included in the advent story. Whether you follow Jesus or not, advent is for you. Whether you trust God’s goodness or you are filled with doubt, Advent is for you. Whether you have much or little, Advent is for you. If you struggle or the holidays bring deep sadness, Advent is for you.

A Charlie Brown Christmas reflection

We love the Charlie Brown Christmas special don’t we? How many churches will show that clip during the Christmas season? I love it. This scene literally brings tears to my eyes. But did you know both the executive producer and the animator hated it. They fought Schultz’s when he insisted they include a lengthy quote from Scripture, and after watching it they said to one another, “We’ve ruined Charlie Brown.”

What they failed to grasp in this special was the brilliant characterization of the honest Christian experience embodied by Charlie Brown. Yes, the Linus monologue is fantastic and heartwarming, but the true depth of this Christmas special is found in the character arc of Charlie Brown.

The special begins with a melancholy Charlie Brown. He is always melancholy, because of all the Charlie Browns in the world, he is the Charlie Browniest. But this sadness is not arbitrary. He is discontent with the way of things, in particular the commercialism of Christmas. He intuitively understands there is something profane in the consumerism of Christmas, but he doesn’t know why.

At the advice of Lucy he tries to shake off his sadness with busyness. He agrees to direct the Christmas play, but is reminded at every turn just how out of place he is. He cannot escape the knowledge that something is wrong with this representation of Christmas.

Next Lucy suggests he shake off the blues with a little retail therapy. Perhaps buying a Christmas tree will help. Of course, he doesn’t choose the bright and flashy tree, manufactured and fake inside. Charlie Brown picks the modest, humble Christmas tree. It is an anti-commercial Christmas tree, the opposite of everything that is bothering him.

I think he sees himself in the tree. He instinctively knows this tree, like him, is worthy of love. But when the other children attack it, he comes undone. The gap between what he is experiencing and what he knows Christmas should be becomes too much to bear, and he shouts, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” This is when Linus delivers the speech from Luke’s gospel.

Hearing this, Charlie Brown looks at his simple tree and cracks a rare smile. I cannot help but wonder if at this point he recognizes his connection to the tree. He takes the tree and reflects on what Linus has said. The angels’ tidings of great joy are contrasted with his melancholy. A savior is born, bringing peace on earth and goodwill toward all people, the humble and simple included.

Charlie Brown responds immediately, showing goodwill to the humble tree. But it cannot bear the weight of his love. The tree sags, and Charlie Brown’s heart goes with it. How often does this happen to us? A great revelation is followed by struggle, and we question whether what we heard is really true. Is peace and goodwill really coming to all people, even those of us who struggle like Charlie Brown?

What happens next may be the most beautiful scene in the entire story. The community surrounds Charlie Brown. They honor the humble tree and bring out its beauty. In showing love for the tree, they are affirming Charlie Brown. By supporting the tree, they support Charlie Brown. It is a reminder to us all that we need our brothers and sisters. As difficult as they may be at times, we cannot go it alone.

This is why I love the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.

Four quotes for Advent

“The only people who soul can truly magnify the Lord are…people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by the condescension of the magnificent God.”

-John Piper

 

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes… and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent. ”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

“Advent, like its cousin Lent, is a season for prayer and reformation of our hearts. Since it comes at winter time, fire is a fitting sign to help us celebrate Advent…If Christ is to come more fully into our lives this Christmas, if God is to become really incarnate for us, then fire will have to be present in our prayer. Our worship and devotion will have to stoke the kind of fire in our souls that can truly change our hearts. Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this Advent time.”

-Edward Hays

 

“The implications of the name “Immanuel” are both comforting and unsettling. Comforting, because He has come to share the danger as well as the drudgery of our everyday lives. He desires to weep with us and to wipe away our tears. And what seems most bizarre, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, longs to share in and to be the source of the laughter and the joy we all too rarely know. ”

-Michael Card

 

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