Charlie Brown had it right. While everyone else (including his dog) was into the glitz and glamor of lights, presents, and scurrying around, he picked that one lonely Christmas tree as the one he would love. And even though he thought he had killed it when he put that one red Christmas ornament on the tree, he still had the right idea. Charlie Brown recognized that this season is about simplicity. After hearing Linus, (who also seemed to understand), recite the birth narrative in Luke’s gospel, Charlie Brown realized that his instincts were correct. He simply wanted that which mattered most to him which was his family, friends, and the simplicity of a baby being born in a lowly manger who would change everything. He picked the lowliest Christmas tree because he understood that the season really is about love. And it really is quite simple.
The fourth week of Advent can be the most difficult to reflect upon. This is the time when things may be the busiest and most harried with last minute details that need attending. It is also the time when we have been reflecting on so many Advent images (if we have been able at all) that we are tempted to throw our hands up and shout, "Just bring on Christmas already! Let's get to the point!" But are we really ready, or are we simply raising the white flag amidst our weariness given the lateness of the season? In a perfect world we would truly be spiritually ready for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord. But if the world was perfect we would not need Jesus to come, would we? And this is precisely why it is the most important time of the entire season: we do need Jesus. We need Him badly. And maybe we are ready, though our reasons are not the purest. But then again, we are ready. Therefore these last few days in this shortest of the Advent weeks are really the most poignant of them all. We need Jesus to come into our hearts in a new way to heal that which is most wounded, to revitalize that which is weariest, to bring light to that which is darkest, and to bring joy to that which is dimmest.
The key to this part of the season is, paradoxically, simplicity. We have visited every one of the themes by now, from the Annunciation to John the Baptizer to the trip to Bethlehem. There is not much left to say. Therefore, we are invited into the silence of the last few days before the birth of Jesus is celebrated. It is, indeed, very simple. In our daily lives we can rush around getting work done; we can fret over the shopping and decorating, and we can obsess over all the mechanics of that oh, so important meal on Christmas day. But the truth of it is that none of that really matters in the long run. What matters is finding Jesus in the midst of everything we are doing. And even more important, it is about finding Him in the midst of the people we are sharing it with.
Therefore in meditating during these last few days, we are called into the simplicity of it all. Despite all the theological, liturgical fussing within our hearts and minds, and despite what we know to be beyond our understanding as to how the King of Creation comes as a tiny baby, it is all really quite simple. It is about love, pure and transparent. To make it about anything else is to miss the point entirely. For example, in the reading from 2 Samuel 7 in the 4th Advent Sunday liturgy we hear that King David wanted to build a house (temple) for the Lord. Through the prophet Nathan we receive God’s response along with the king: God does not want a building, but rather He wants something greater from David. He wants David to receive a gift, but it is one that will need attention and nurturing. What God is giving is not just for David. It is for all of us. The gift is that the Messiah will come and that He will be a descendent of David.
David was well intentioned, but he had missed the point until God clarified it. What God wants of any of us is that we receive His Son. He does not want us to build glamorous temples, put on elaborate shows of piety, or give to be seen giving. Rather He desires that we receive a humble baby who comes in an old stable to some poor, but faith-filled parents. He wants us to come in our nothingness, bringing only one gift, which is the gift of ourselves. He only wants to make a covenant with us and that covenant is all about love. He wants to love us and for us to love Him back. It is indeed very simple.
Charlie Brown had it right: it is about a nearly bare Christmas tree with one red ornament. Or to translate to the truth of the season: it is about a nearly bare stable with the attention being put on the Lord, not on the condition of the surroundings. That red Christmas ornament put a strain on the tree until it was shored up with Linus’ blanket, (for those who do not remember the scene.) In the real Nativity scene, the baby will be supported by the love of Mary and Joseph, and soon afterward the shepherds, kings…and you and me. We need to ready our hearts for the baby to come into that manger. He will eventually ask a lot of us. He will ask us to love the way He loves. But He will also give us what we need to do so. In these last days of Advent we need to reflect upon what that means. How can we prepare for such a love? How can we prepare to make a response to such a love? In what way have we made it so complex that we are missing the point God is trying to make? And how can we let Him strip away the distractions so that we can truly be ready to receive?
Yes, Charlie Brown had it right. It is about the simplicity of love. It is not about dressing it up in fancy words and fancy clothing and pretending it is something other than it is. It is about taking that which is loneliest, most fragile, most wounded, most reviled, and most broken and sharing just a bit of our love. I think that is something we can all do. It is what the season is really all about. So let us wait these last few days with joyful expectation. Let us bring our weariness to the stable along with the very pregnant mother Mary, who bore Him in her womb with love beyond all telling. Let us wait along with Joseph, the foster-parent-to-be who tenderly cared for his wife, preparing the stable for the birth which was to come at any moment. Let us drink in their love, which was infused with the Child to come, and let us recognize the naked simplicity of the moment. Let us be there without pretense, without worry whether we are worthy enough (no one is!) and without fear. Let us just be there, side by side, with the love that will change everything.
May we come to Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph, awaiting the arrival of the child Jesus in joyful expectation! May we be able to put aside all fear and worry, knowing that all He wants of us is us! May we be able to put aside all that distracts us from these late Advent mysteries, focusing on that which really matters and that which we are really called to do! May we hear the richness of the silence which speaks of the simplicity with which love comes! And may we be assured that Jesus comes for us to be our true Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’ Let us meet in simplicity at the foot of the manger in the heart of the one who loves us beyond all telling! Marana tha! Peace! (And when the day does arrive, have a wonderful, blessed Christmas!)
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are mine. Yes, I do have a 'Charlie Brown Christmas tree.' Thanks to Charles M. Schulz for creating such a treasure of wisdom as he gave us in the Peanuts strip for so long.
The painting of King David is the Westminster Psalter David. You can find it at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Westminster_Psalter_David.jpg
The icon is one of the many icons written by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It is called Mother of the Incarnate Word. I love it for meditation during Advent because it is clear that Mary is pregnant. If you are interested in obtaining a copy it can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/mother-of-the-incarnate-word-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Heart Speaks to Heart