Guest Column by Jennifer Underwood
My daughter Elizabeth recently stopped sucking on her middle two fingers. It was a habit she adopted within two days of her birth and has served her well in times of need, stress or boredom. As a mother to three children, I was grateful she had this self-soothing technique because it gave her comfort at times when my arms were full. About three weeks ago, the fingers left her mouth and any attempt by me to reinstate her beloved habit has been met with a blank stare as though any muscle memory she may have had that led her to suck her fingers had been erased. And the need it fulfilled? Well, that duty has now been transferred back to me.
Christmas movies are a big part of our holiday traditions. We watch all the major ones: Rudolph, Home Alone, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, even Christmas Vacation. While I try to maintain a light heart when it comes to holiday movies that are “just for fun,” as the children get older, I have begun to pay more attention to the messages those movies send to my children about Christmas. All of the movies I mention above are very secular movies so the message often has little to do with the true meaning of Christmas, but they send these messages all the same. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge redeems his own past transgressions with good works. In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, while the anti-materialism message is a good one, in the end, it’s family, friends and community that are the “true” meaning of Christmas (so woe to you if you happen to be alone at this time of year as many, many are). In the beloved classic It’s a Wonderful Life, even angels have to earn their wings. And the only way I’ve managed to explain away the graceless idea that Santa brings gifts to good children only is through the reminder that Santa is not Jesus. Jesus loves you anyway.
I think my favorite Christmas movie of all though, the one I feel best about watching while snuggled up on the couch under a blanket with the children is a cartoon, an unlikely place to expect a viable Christmas message… A Charlie Brown Christmas. It seems that the older I get, the more this movie resonates with me. As we age and many of the things that symbolized Christmas to us in a peripheral way end, traditions stop, loved ones pass away and we struggle to form new nuclear families, it is so easy to identify with Charlie Brown’s feeling that Christmas just does not feel right anymore:
“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”
How many times have we heard the Christmas music around us, gone through the motions of decorating the tree, the house, the everything, bought the presents, wrapped the presents, planned the food, cooked the food and all the while felt like something was just missing? Maybe it’s the first year (or the second year, or the third year) without your spouse or your mother or your brother or even your child. Maybe it’s the first year that your kids are no longer living at home and all of the fuss seems rather pointless when it’s just you and your husband coming home to see it every night. Maybe you’ve lost your job and the season just highlights the ever-present monetary struggle you are experiencing.
Whatever the cause, we long for the magic we felt as children and end up pulling out all the stops to try and create that magic on our own. In the movie, Charlie Brown gets various suggestions as to how to get back the Christmas spirit. Lucy suggests getting involved and my-my, haven’t we all tried that one? Others suggest material satisfaction in the form of both presents and real estate and Charlie Brown ultimately discovers that even his dog has “gone commercial.”
It’s only Linus, one of the more subdued characters in the Charlie Brown series with his ever-present blue security blanket who has the answer to the question, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, blanket in hand, pulls his thumb out of his mouth and answers in a very calm voice, without the ridicule or reprimand many of the people in Charlie Brown’s life offer up to him on a daily basis, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” and rather than suggest yet another thing that Charlie Brown can do, himself, Linus begins to recite Luke 2:8-14.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field…”
And there’s a very interesting thing that happens when he reaches Luke 2:10 with the phrase “Fear not…” Linus drops his security blanket. It’s very subtle and unless your attention has been drawn to it, it will likely go unnoticed because Linus himself seems not to notice. At the angel of the Lord’s command to the shepherds to not be afraid (which also, incidentally, is the most frequent command in the Bible), Linus lets go of the one item that nobody has been able to convince him to lose, his comfort, his security, let’s just call it “what gets him through the night.”
Because in the face of the news that God has sent his son to us here on earth, we have all the comfort and security we need. Our Lord and Savior in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby, born in a stable of all places, is the culmination of all that we are searching for, all that we seek, the fulfillment of that ever-present sense that something is missing. And when we realize that, we can let go of our security blanket, whatever substitute we use to try to “get us through the night,” whether it’s finger-sucking, or money, or real estate. That is where the magic of Christmas is found, not in gifts or money or involvement or good deeds or even in friends and family and it’s not something we can create for ourselves or for our family.
That tiny baby is the fulfillment of our every longing. He sets us free.