Everything I Learned about Christmas I Learned from Watching TV

I re-post this every Advent because it's the best sermon (three points and all!) I ever preached.

Many years ago I was asked to preach on Christmas. The sermon I gave (and captured in these posts) was entitled Everything I Learned about Christmas I Learned from Watching TV. In the sermon (and the posts) I move through three classic Christmas specials: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. In the sermon I used the TV shows to raise theological questions about the meaning of Christmas. The sermon concludes with the most overt gospel proclamation in prime time TV history when Linus steps out under the spotlight in A Charlie Brown Christmas. This special first aired on December 9, 1965 at 7:30 p.m.. David Michaelis writes about that premiere in his biography of Charles Schulz:

Almost half the people watching television in the United States tuned in--some fifteen and a half million households--and found themselves breaking out in gooseflesh as Linus walked in silence to center stage, dragging his blanket, called out 'Lights, please?,' and filled an empty auditorium with his clear recitation of the Gospel tidings of great joy to all people. For years, viewers would be surprised to find themselves once again moved to tears by Linus's unadorned rendition of the Nativity [and] the simple, lisping authority of his exit line, 'That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.'
It's hard for me to communicate with my students about how important these Christmas shows were for my generation. There were no videos, DVDs, Netflix, DVRs, or TiVos. There was no Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, or Cartoon Network. All we had was Looney Tunes and Scooby Doo on Saturday morning and the Brady Bunch when we got home from school. And the Christmas specials. And those came only once a year! So if you missed them, you had to wait a whole year. And, invariably, these specials would come on Wednesday night, smack in the middle of my church's midweek bible study. And my family never missed bible study. So it could be a couple a years in between viewings for me.

So I care deeply about these shows. When I bought them on DVD my boys thought I was buying the shows for them. I wasn't. To actually own these shows is a religious experience for me.

When I first posted this series I had a debate with one of my Graduate Assistants, Missy, about the theology of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. She claimed that she hated the show because everyone only likes Rudolph after they find out he is useful (that his nose can get Santa through the storm). Which, if this were true, would be problematic, theologically speaking. But I objected. I pointed out that everyone reconciles with Rudolph, Hermey, and the Abominable Snowman before they figure out that Rudolph's nose would be of use. The ordering here, theologically, is very important.

I told Missy she should rent the video to see who had the sequence right, she or I. But I informed her it would be a waste of time...

You don't mess with my generation went it comes to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

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One thought on “Everything I Learned about Christmas I Learned from Watching TV”

  1. I never heard you preach this particular sermon, but I will object anyway and say that your best sermon involved urinals and targets.

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