Our whole life is an Advent season, and Charlie Brown shows us how to wait.
Read all the posts from A Charlie Brown Christmas Week. Now, go memorize your lines and be ready to recite when your cue comes.
There once was a VHS tape that contained all the classic animated Christmas specials. My brothers and I spent hours upon hours watching and rewatching it. It was like an ancient scroll full of sacred passages that you only dusted off during four weeks of the year. My parents recorded these specials from the TV broadcasts straight to tape through the VCR. This was a pretty sophisticated technological achievement in the mid 1980s.
The tape contained Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Disney’s A Christmas Carol, other random Disney specials and, of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
(My parents also happened to capture a few epic holiday commercials when they recorded these shows. These are all-time great ads. God bless you, 1986. And now I’m craving a York Peppermint Patty.)
Of all the specials captured on that glorious strip of magnetic tape, A Charlie Brown Christmas was our most-watched, most-beloved. I remember one viewing rather vividly. I couldn’t have been more than 6-years-old. It was a cold, snowy day in southeast South Dakota. A large fire roared adjacent to the TV set. Time seemed to go at half its normal pace as I sat alone watching Charlie Brown trudge through existential snow drifts to a real understanding of Christmas. I remember grasping the significance of Linus’s moment in the spotlight for the first time and knowing that there was something special here.
But the way time passed while watching A Charlie Brown Christmas as a child has never left me. It does feel as if time passes faster as an adult. Still, it seemed as if it took forever to get to the resolution in A Charlie Brown Christmas as a 6-year-old. Maybe it was because I was eager to get out in the snow as soon as the last bars of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” faded to black. The pacing, the dialogue and Charlie Brown’s depressive mood certainly helped slow things down, as well; so, too, did the repressed notes of “Christmas Time Is Here.” There was a lagging, a waiting, a tense anticipation that made the viewing experience feel much longer than 20-some minutes.
Now, as an adult, the waiting makes sense. “The Advent season is a season of waiting,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “but our whole life is an Advent season.”
My wife and I have been waiting for a baby for four and a half years. Multiple failed fertility treatments, plus an early miscarriage, have brought us to a place where time can feel cruel. The goodness of God’s story has been questioned. The last two months have been particularly stressful because of our uncertainty about what to do next. And now we face another round of holidays without children. Even as we start to make preliminary steps toward adoption, we’re faced with more waiting.
Charlie Brown was waiting to feel happy, to feel joyful. “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus,” he said, then added, “I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” I don’t want this to sound cynical, but he never will. And I never will. Not on this side of the eternal timeline.
There is no suffering without waiting, and there is no waiting without hope. So much of life — Christian or otherwise — is about embracing suffering. In Charlie Brown, we see a resilience to reject safety and apathy. He continues to vulnerably seek resolve. He presses in deeper to find the truth behind the frustration and the waiting. In my wife and mine’s journey toward a family, there have been many times when all I’ve wanted to do was not think about it, to not pursue the next steps, to not provide a vision for the next chapter of our life together. Let me forget about it for a while. The stress is too much. Like Charlie Brown said, “I always end up feeling depressed.”
I find myself in this struggle with depression and melancholy even when something as heavy as infertility isn’t weighing down my soul. Too much emo in high school, I suppose. But not feeling the way I want to feel is not something I’m proud of. I don’t want to stay here, even though I’m tempted to. I don’t like fighting this all the time. It’s probably why the Christmas season has always meant so much to me. Linus and Luke bring the only hope that’s real and wonderful enough to get me through the waiting.
“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Christmas is about the end of waiting, Charlie. In this I find hope. As sure as that Christ child was born in a manger, so will our waiting come to an end (1 Peter 1:3-8). A winter without Christmas would be unbearable, as C.S. Lewis rightfully understood.
Of all the religions in the world, Christianity is the Charlie Brown-iest. Jesus’ co-heirs wait and suffer and whiff at the football. One day, all things will be made new (Revelation 21:5). The promise of Christmas will be fully realized, and we will finally feel the way we’re supposed to feel.
Take hope, Charlie. Our ability to wait, to suffer and to long is not dependent on how well we direct a play or understand the lines. Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35). Joy is given to us in the form of a baby. Everything we touch may fall to ruin, but it is in the ruin that our celebrating and our seeking must be all the more intentional.
And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives. – Bonhoeffer, in a letter from prison to fiancé Maria von Wedemeyer, December 13, 1943