Photo by Jason Minear of Mckees Rocks
PPG skating Rink in downtown Pittsburgh.
By J. Hogan
-Gains & Gleanings-
In the ever-lovely “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” we hear Charlie’s security blanket-toting friend Linus quote a line from the Gospel of Luke. “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy that will be to all the people.”
All these decades later, that ancient truth serves this year as a breath of fresh air.
Ironically, Linus is answering Charlie Brown’s exasperated question “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” and he’s answering it on the stage at their elementary school’s assembly hall.
Today’s constantly dreary news has most of today’s elementary kids doing school from home, and folks of all ages walking around in a near-panic. Wow, could we ever use some tidings of great joy about now?
When the divine message Linus quoted was delivered by one of God’s angel messengers, the world was vastly more dangerous than it is now.
Today we’re panicked about a virus that proves fatal to a sliver of the population, mostly folks deep into their 70s or older. In those demographics, where this “pandemic” is most deadly, a little over 97% of the people who contract the virus survive it.
When the shepherds were hearing about the coming of Christ, the average life expectancy was little more than 35 years. That skews low, due to outrageously high infant mortality rates, but it would have been rare for an adult to live to see their 55th birthday.
It’s been a rough time for the economy this year, too.
The government has had to send out checks to help families and has intervened to prevent landlords from evicting tenants behind on rent.
The world into which Jesus was born had starvation-level poverty for centuries prior to and after his arrival. Our bad economic year — at least here in the U.S.A. – would be unimaginable riches for the denizens of the Holy Land of Jesus’ day.
Perhaps one blessing for those long-ago folks was that they didn’t have news updates on the hour to make them aware of miseries not already manifest in their day.
Into circumstances far direr than anything we’ve collectively faced, God sent his message of good news. Tidings of great joy that will be to all the people.
Instead of turning on the news today, I put on Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and relished the late jazz pianist’s smooth sound, reminding me that God’s good news is still good. It still brings great joy and it’s still for all the people.
That good news has been good through horrible times and it will sustain us through this time of virus and political bickering, too. More amplified bad news and one governing sort or another will try to stomp out your attempts to find some joy during this Christmas season.
Don’t let ‘em. That good news and the joy it portends didn’t come from the anchor’s desk or the apparatchik’s cubicle. It came from the God of Heaven, and it is meant for all the people… including you.
Grab ahold of the love, redemption and reinvigoration possible in that message.
In the famed verse made ever more ubiquitous by the goofball-behind-the-goalpost at televised football games, John 3:16, we’re reminded why God put in motion the news brought by the heavenly messenger to those long-ago shepherds (to be reiterated by our hero Linus): “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Don’t let 2020 steal the joy sent to bring you hope. It may not turn out to be a “normal” Christmas season… but make it a joyful one either way by focusing your heart on the gift given for you and refusing to let anything or anyone steal that joy.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.