I recently bumped into an old friend from grammar school, and we began reminiscing about our favorite Christmas movies. Apart from realizing that all of the candidates were over 50 years old (not surprising given what spews out today), we ended up agreeing on two winners: one originally a theatrical release and the other a now classic television offering. It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, and A Charlie Brown Christmas, starring the irrepressible Peanuts gang, could not be more different in many ways, yet together they provide a profound message that should resonate in any Christian perspective of Christmas.
Let God be your star
Both movies remind us that God should be the central navigating and guiding influence in our lives. George Bailey’s problems began when he forgot that his life’s purpose, meaning, and value was determined by heaven and not any superficial, temporary, or earthly measure. Charlie Brown struggled until Linus reminded him of the real reason for the season. Ultimately, many of our daily struggles originate from our own misguided shortcuts around God’s wisdom.
True happiness is the product of proper prioritizing
Both movies show the destructive effect of greed, selfishness, and measuring value by earthly standards. Bedford Falls could have become Pottersville if these evils had been allowed to spread, without George to stop them. Even George himself only finds true happiness when he realizes the importance of faith, family, and true friendship. Charlie Brown’s struggles with the modern commercialism of Christmas and his friends’ initial preoccupation with finding the right tree by society’s modern standards only lead to unhappiness and conflict. Ultimately, George’s frustrations melt away in the face of his realization of what really matters in this world. Likewise, Charlie Brown’s wonderfully simple Christmas tree provides an enduring lesson to everyone.
Balance ambition with grounding
In both movies, we are reminded that there is nothing wrong with trying to be better, but there is a lot wrong with losing yourself in the process. George’s dissatisfaction with his life stemmed from allowing his earthly ambition to transcend his values and God-given gifts. Charlie Brown, Linus, and Pigpen all try to be better but ultimately do best by accepting who they are and offering that to the world. True followers of Christ are most effective when they are truly following Christ and not this world. The world may mock George’s simplistic ways, Charlie Brown’s stumbles, Linus’s security blanket, and Pigpen’s dust, but that is only because it fails to value their deep dedication to who they are and refusal to surrender to society’s foolish norms. Staying true to who we are allows us to find and use our gifts for God. The value of legendary disc jockey Casey Kasem’s catchphrase reminding us to “keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars” was never more evident than in these two films.
Love and leave the justice to God
Like many folks, I enjoy watching cruel people pay for their treatment of others. Part of me would have certainly loved to see Potter in jail or homeless, after the way he treated the good people of Bedford Falls. Likewise, I do not like the way Charlie Brown’s friends get away with mistreating Charlie and Linus. Lucy keeps on pulling the football away, as Charlie falls flat, and many of the others call Charlie stupid and hopeless. I sometimes wish that those friends would look stupid or fall flat on their faces for once, so they could learn some lessons. However, the true lesson of Christmas is not revenge or payback or bitter resentment. Rather, that message is very much about love, forgiveness, and leaving things to God. At the end of the day, God just wants us to love and leave the justice to Him.
It’s a Wonderful Life and A Charlie Brown Christmas have survived the aluminum facade of this society’s artificial and diluted celebration of December 25th. In their own way, each of these simple, yet profound, movies reminds us of the majestic humility and transcendent simplicity of what Christmas is all about. While most of society dabbles in its annual politically-correct finger painting and bland holiday fare, these two wonderful reminders of past wisdom challenge us to hope and work for more.
2017 Gabriel Garnica