The following is the homily I preached at both my parishes of Corpus Christi and St Mark's Community of the Deaf at the 'Mass at Night' of the Lord's Nativity.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special broadcast. I’m sure most of you have seen it; I bought the DVD earlier this week because, as a kid, I never understood the dialogue—closed captioning was not available to me until I was in high school. (When I finally got my closed-captioned decoder, all of my dreams were captioned for a week!)
There is one scene in the play—the high point, really—that ought to catch our attention. We all know of Linus, the boy with his ever-present security blanket. In the Peanuts series and especially in the Christmas special, Linus is berated for always having his ‘blankie’ with him, and refuses to let go of it.
At one point when Charlie Brown says he does not understand the true meaning of Christmas, Linus takes centre-stage at the play they are rehearsing and recites Luke 2:8-16 from memory. It’s the same gospel we just heard. “And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear…” The whole time, Linus is holding his blankie. But then, he does the unthinkable. He continued, “…And the angel said to them, fear not…” At that moment when Linus said “fear not,” he lets go of the blanket, and continued the story, which we all know so well.
You see, we each have our own proverbial ‘security blankets’—they can be anything. Our reputation. Our position at work. Money. Being scared of dying. These are not bad things. But when they become our security blankets, we prop up an alternative to Jesus. A counterfeit messiah. But our counterfeit messiahs arise from our fears, fears that Jesus was born to relieve. “Fear not!” This is the most frequent saying found in the Bible—“Fear not!” or “Be not afraid!” It is found more than 300 times in all of the divine Scriptures. The Lord is insistent that we take heart in his care for us and to abandon our fears.
Linus got the message right: “Fear not!” The moment he said that, he lets go. The same invitation goes to us tonight: “Fear not.” Our fears drive us into a futile attempt at self-salvation, or self-redemption. But the angel that spoke to the shepherds address us as well: “Fear not; for behold, I bring you Good News of great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour. He is Christ the Lord.”
Tonight is when we come to bear in mind, in the severest way possible, that there is only one Messiah, and it’s none of us. “Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee.” In another carol we also sing: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
At the end of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, we remember that Charlie Brown goes in search of the perfect Christmas tree—and finds only one real evergreen in a commercial lot full of aluminum and artificial trees. But when he goes to decorate it, it still doesn’t go well. He walks away, and the rest of the neighbour kids decide to try to dress the tree, beginning with Linus. What does he do? He takes his blanket and wraps it at the base of the tree, thus enabling it to stand upright. And that is what the Lord wants to do with all of our hopes and fears, and with all of our shortcomings: the Lord desires to transform them into something beautiful. Just as the Eternal Word was transformed into a helpless infant, also does He want to transform us from helpless creatures into his children of his mercy and redemption.
But in order to do that, we must rediscover how to embrace Christ the Lord, who embraced us the night He was born. Merry Christmas.