The Van Pelt family has taught more people about the true meaning of Christmas than any preacher you can name, including probably the current Pope himself.
Since 1965, Linus Van Pelt has appeared in that lone spotlight on the school stage to recite the nativity story from Luke 2 and conclude, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” We all love that part as the theological core of the show.
But Linus’s older sister Lucy grew up in the same home and, earlier in the narrative, makes a different kind of Christian/Christmas point. (It’s not what you’d call obviously theological, but that’s what you read a theologian’s blog to find out, right?)
Just after counseling Charlie Brown about his depression at Christmas time, Lucy offers her version of sympathy:
Lucy: Incidentally, I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys, or a bicycle, or clothes, or something like that.
Charlie: What is it you want?
Lucy: Real estate.
We laugh at Lucy’s implausibly precocious ambitions, as well as her outsized greed. Real estate! For a little girl!
But Lucy’s right. When you can wish for anything at Christmas and you settle for toys, vehicles, or clothes, you are being pretty stupid. Lucy doesn’t want something that will soon fall victim to failure or fashion. She wants something real, as the dictionary defines it in regard to real estate: “fixed, permanent, immobile.”
Lucy paid attention in Sunday School. She remembers Jesus saying something similar in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
And Proverbs 11:18 points in the same life-giving direction: “The wicked earn no real gain, but those who sow righteousness get a true reward.” Of course the wicked gain something: a bit of fun, pleasure, status, acceptance. That’s what toys, vehicles, and clothes can bring you. But nothing real: nothing that will last.
So, instructed by the combined theological vision of the Van Pelts, I am delighted by every toy, vehicle (!), or article of clothing I receive at Christmas, as each is a token of love from someone special to me and each will provide me with a certain, limited amount of pleasure.
But as I listen to Linus repeat that narrative, I remember what really—fixedly, permanently, ultimately—matters, around which all the other gift-giving revolves and from which all the other gift-giving derives its meaning.
And as I listen to Lucy express her aspiration, I ask the Gift-Giver for real—fixed, permanent, ultimate—matter, for an everlasting patch of ground in the New Jerusalem.
Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!