The Most Iconic Reading of the KJV – A Charlie Brown Christmas
"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.”
Charlie Brown confides in Linus in the opening scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown knows this is the time of year for “cheer,” for celebration, for time with friends and family. He goes on to say that he enjoys sending cards and decorating the Christmas tree, but a hollow remains and he ends up depressed. The joyful carols sung around him echo in Charlie Brown’s inner emptiness—the emptiness we also may tangibly feel.
We All Know Charlie Brown
And isn’t this the reason that after all these years (Charlie Brown Christmas was first aired on December 9, 1965) we still watch and wonder at this simple story? Charlie Brown is a cartoon character, but we know him. We have all felt Charlie Brown's discomfort at some point or another, just as we have personified or have known so many of the Charles Schulz characters.
We Love the Peanuts Characters
The beauty of Schulz’s Peanuts characters lies in their relatability. Lucy is the classic prima donna, a somehow leader who cajoles and manipulates and demands homage. Schroeder is the classic studious sort of boy, focused on his interest – mostly Beethoven – and contentedly unaware of social dynamics swirling around him. Linus is the peacemaker, but confident enough to choose between the crowd or his own way, so he is often the one comforting Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown is the awkward one, sincere and probably too earnest, included as a fringe member of the group.
Charlie Brown’s Existential Problem
Charlie Brown never quite fits in, though sometimes friends rally around him, as they do finally in this Peanuts story, to decorate his Christmas tree. But they do that only after ridiculing him for getting that pathetic, spindly tree.
Even Patty, the girl eternally in love with her dear “Chuck” piles on – the pain is palpable. Charlie Brown can’t do anything right, can’t please the crowd, can’t play on the A team. No wonder the stuff of Christmas leaves him unsatisfied; he has no one to truly share it with.
Charlie Brown’s Existential Question
Charlie Brown’s problem is not that he is a hopeless failure, nor that he lacks friends. That may be true, but his problem goes deeper. In his loneliness he has begun to wonder what it is that really makes people happy. He has tried the Christmas cards, and the holiday decorations—the Christmas tree has clearly failed. As the script of A Charlie Brown Christmas moves along, he keeps looking for the true meaning of Christmas in hopes that he might discover what he’s missing, and perhaps get a glimpse of the happiness he seems to have missed.
At the turning point of the episode, Charlie Brown says to Linus:
“I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about.”
And then, in desperation, he shouts:
“Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Then begins one of the most iconic readings of the Gospel of Luke from the KJV in the 20th century. In response to Charlie Brown’s question, Linus says simply:
He concludes with:
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Linus’ Mic Drop
Linus walks away, leaving both Charlie Brown and us, the audience, stunned. The KJV is so familiar, and still in the late 1960s the Bible translation of choice, so most in the audience know this passage after years of reading and hearing Luke’s version of the Christmas story in the King James translation. Here, in this ancient text which a child recites by memory, we hear the answer we had known all along.
The “good news of great joy” shines clear and bright. The angels spelled it out for those “sore afraid” shepherds that night as they were “abiding in the field.” A Savior has been born! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
This baby’s birth held the key to “great joy” – the answer to Charlie Brown's question of desperation.
Charlie Brown’s Story is Our Story
Russell Moore tells of his own encounter with this story in a blog titled, “How Charlie Brown Saved My Ministry (Twice).” Much like Charlie Brown, he was becoming disillusioned by the problems he encountered with the church he was pastoring, his own failures along the way, and a cracking depression about his ministry calling. On a particularly fraught evening, he turned on the television to hear Linus reciting from the KJV:
I really believe that God used that moment to lift me out of my fear and anxiety and despair, and to pick myself up to preach again the tidings of great joy.”
Profound, Unexpected Good News
Isn’t that the way the good news about Jesus gets to us—in unexpected ways? For that is the manner in which it came at first: a king arriving as an infant, with angels announcing his arrival to shepherd-folk, and a virgin bringing her boy into the world in a downtrodden stable—all quite unexpected. The message of Jesus remains the same for us as for the shepherds, though appearing unexpectedly via a “cartoon child” speaking from a 400 year old text commissioned by King James I of England.
Amidst the rush and busyness and tinsel of Christmas, don’t we sometimes ask the very same question Charlie Brown asks? Niggling self-doubt comes to us in quiet moments between tasks or events. When the swirling whirl stops, what is left to disguise loneliness or discouragement or disillusionment? Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?
As the KJV so eloquently preaches, this “good news of great joy,” the answer to Charlie Brown’s question, appears with the birth of Jesus. “ For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” ( Luke 2:11 KJV) He alone promises hope in forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life with him. Charlie Brown’s deepest questions are well-founded. We aren’t to be satisfied with our life here on earth, because we are made for an eternal life of glory in heaven with Christ. Our lives here – always tainted by the stain of sin, filled with imperfect joy and lingering discouragement – with find full meaning and fulfillment in heaven.
The Peanuts’ Message and the King James Version
Charles Schulz insisted that this KJV text be included in his show. While the producer and director resisted at first, Schulz knew that the Bible shows us the only true answer to Charlie Brown’s question. Years on it shines as a beacon of truth in our weary world.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”