Letter from Dr. Joseph Tkach - Dec. 2017

Date: 

December 1, 2017

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December 2017  

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy the meaningful holiday traditions of Christmas time. I look forward every year to decorating the tree with my family, singing carols in church, and watching Christmas classics on television – with a mug of cocoa in hand and the fireplace crackling in the background. My personal favorite is A Christmas Story, but a close runner-up is the much-loved A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Whenever I come across a showing of this contemporary Christmas favorite, I know I need to watch for the central scene of the movie, one that has stayed with me ever since I first saw it. If you’ve watched this 1965 TV special, you probably remember it, too. Poor Charlie Brown is trying to put on a Christmas pageant. He is discouraged by the materialism of the other characters, who are only concerned with having the shiniest decorations and the largest number of gifts. Finally, in exasperation, he shouts “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Just then, little Linus – never seen anywhere without his blanket – walks to center stage. A spotlight shines down on him, and the auditorium goes dark. Then, something truly remarkable happens. Linus recites Luke 2:8-14, repeating word for word the King James version of the nativity story:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

It may seem particularly surprising now, as secular as television has gotten, to hear someone read from the Gospels, but it was unusual in 1965 as well. When Charles Schultz, the creator of Charlie Brown, was working with the producers of the Christmas special, they were worried that quoting Scripture so directly and pointedly would offend a national audience. Reportedly, Schultz was told it was “very dangerous for us to start talking about religion.” Schultz responded simply, saying, “If we don’t, who will?” He stood by his conviction about the true meaning of Christmas, and so, every time A Charlie Brown Christmas is aired, the nativity story is read, word for word, from the Bible.

Instead of alienating viewers, A Charlie Brown Christmas was a smash hit! The CBS special was the second-most watched program the week it debuted. Its innovative jazz soundtrack has sold 4 million copies in the US. It has since received an Emmy and a Peabody award. It makes me think that many people embrace the chance to recall a truth about Christmas beyond the rush of travel and the pressure to buy, buy, buy.

This bold statement by Shultz takes Christmastime viewers right to the source: the words of Scripture itself. Some have even noticed that Linus drops his ever-present, comforting blanket when he shares the Christmas story. It’s a subtle reminder of the true meaning of Christmas that Linus shares: the birth of our Savior frees us from all fear. The many material gifts we cherish and exchange at Christmas pale in comparison to the gift of God’s Son, the Way, the Truth, and the Life for all who call on his name.

Although Christmas is a time for favorite traditions, meals, songs, and movies, a time to rest and be with family, it’s worth remembering Linus’s powerful words as well, straight from the Bible. The reason there is peace on earth and good will toward others is because Jesus was born, fully God and fully human. Jesus is truly “God with us.” And that’s what Christmas is all about: God’s love for us. It is about God’s reaching out, about his becoming one of us and drawing us toward him, a great light that dispels all darkness. It is about Jesus including us in his perfect relationship with the Father, as adopted and beloved children.

If you happen to catch A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV this year, listen to the nativity story with fresh ears. Let it serve as a reminder of the courage Charles Schultz showed in taking viewers straight to the source, the words of Scripture. As Linus lets go of his comforting blanket, it reminds us to value the gift of the gospel above material comforts. Linus’s simple faith and confidence in the words of the Bible are a model for us, too: in an often-hectic season, let’s take a cue from Linus, and get back to the truth of why we celebrate. Why not sit down this month with your favorite warm beverage and read the entire story of the Jesus’ incarnation with a thankful heart and an open mind? Let this miracle sink in again and deepen our appreciation for our Savior who has forever changed us and the world and then end with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise.

I’m grateful to each of you for the many ways you participate in the spread of this truth, the good news of the gospel. Every time you give to GCI, from your time, your money, or your service, you support the spread of the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of our Savior, and our hope of salvation in him. I pray this Christmas season that we all remember, as Linus says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!”


Joseph Tkach
President – Grace Communion International

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