Sometimes, in the weeks before Christmas, I feel a little bit like Charlie Brown who, with furrowed brow and flailing arms, keeps asking everyone he meets, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"
Many people tell me they feel more stress than joy during this season, as they try, like Charlie Brown, to find meaning amid the cacophony of Lucy-like voices telling them to go find "the biggest, shiniest aluminum tree."
For Charlie Brown, it's when he is wandering around in the Christmas tree lot, that the light begins to dawn for him: he finds himself drawn to the forlorn tree in the corner—a tree which turns out to be the only living tree there.
"I think it needs me," Charlie says. And he decides give the tree a home.
This year the Christmas tree in my home is looking a lot like Charlie's, the result of my 3-year-old who has found more than a little bit of joy hiding under and behind the tree, sometimes giving it a good shake. Children are not too interested in just looking; they want to touch and feel and discover with all of their senses.
The Little People barnyard Nativity set has also been quite a hit. I have been having a good time lying on my tummy under the tree telling my son the story of how Mary and Joseph could not find a place to stay, how they knocked on door after door, how Jesus ended up celebrating his first birthday in a barn, animals gathering around to keep him warm.
Since that first telling in our house, Jesus has had a steady stream of adoring visitors including a whale, a squid and a fire breathing dragon just to name a few. 'Tis the season for imagination!
I was the same age as my son is now when Charlie Brown Christmas first aired. It was some years later that I began to make the connection between that forlorn little tree in need of a home and the homeless child lying in a hay-strewn stable because there was no room at the inn.
Charlie Brown asks: "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?Linus responds with the gospel: "This will be a sign unto you, you will see a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
Lying in a manger or hiding behind the Christmas tree, it is very often the children among us who have the power to open our eyes to the gifts of this season—the ones that cannot be bought and sold.
Have you ever noticed how our most beloved Christmas stories feature a little child whose mere presence melts the most callous of hearts? The Grinch needed Cindy Lou Who and Scrooge needed Tiny Tim.
And at the end of the Charlie Brown story, all the kids who had given Charlie a hard time follow him home, and Linus takes his security blanket and he swaddles Charlie's little tree, as if it were the babe in the manger.
Then Lucy, Linus, Charlie and the other children of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special begin to sing "peace on earth and mercy mild."
The lesson learned? Christmas has nothing to do with big shiny aluminum Christmas trees and worrying only about how many high ticket items we will have piled under them. Christmas has everything to do with a Linus-like generosity of heart.
There are many material things that we all hold unto for security, that we think will make us happy. But to be able to take those things and find ways to offer them as gifts to the people around us who have less than we do, to allow the children in our lives to open our eyes to touching, feeling and discovering—these are the most precious gifts of Christmas.
And it is in journeying by the light of this star that we all can become wise ones.