In the 1965 classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown picks a small, weak and flimsy-looking Christmas tree for the Christmas play he and his friends are putting together. When he goes to put an ornament on it, the tree falls. Charlie Brown is devastated. However, his friend Linus says the following: “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all really—maybe it just needs a little love.” At that point, Charlie Brown’s friends rush to help decorate that vulnerable tree and it is transformed and becomes beautiful, strong and bright.
I believe the aforementioned scene captures an essential theme of the great Feast Day of Christmas: weak, broken humanity is refashioned and made spiritually beautiful, strong and bright through the abundant love of God, by God becoming a human being, a reality that Orthodox Christians refer to as the Incarnation.
Charlie Brown did not reject this little, weak tree when he first saw it. God also, did not reject His weak, broken and sinful creation. Instead, the eternal Logos came down from heaven to dwell among us and when He did, He did not shun us. Many “righteous” people in the Gospels looked at spiritually weak, sinful and broken people such as the man born blind, the harlot, the tax collector, and the woman caught in adultery and wanted nothing to do with them. Our Lord, on the other hand, showed mercy, compassion and love to these individuals, establishing the fertile soil for their spiritual rebirth.
I believe many people are spiritually broken and weak because they do not have the love of God in their lives. What does it mean to be spiritually broken and weak? It can mean to be confused, lost, empty, selfish or in despair. To be spiritually beautiful, strong and bright means to be full of genuine hope, peace, joy and love.
All people need the love of God to be to be spiritually beautiful, strong and bright. The love of God is found in the Church. And who is the Church? We are – both clergy and laity! Every baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian constitute together the Church of Christ. Just like that little tree was transformed through the love of Charlie Brown’s friends, we too, as the Church, transform the spiritually broken and weak we encounter by giving them the love of Christ.
We, as the Church, give the love of Christ by not giving up on people because of their spiritual weakness and brokenness. We, as the Church, must see in others what others may not see in themselves: their goodness, value, worth and that they are lovable. We, as the Church, give the love of Christ by treating all people with kindness, respect, care, concern, mercy, and compassion.
The tragedy is that it is possible that this love of Christ may not be experienced in a parish. We must make sure that we do our part so that anyone who attends our services, ministries and functions, can tell others that they are loved, welcomed, cherished and embraced.
Above all, I hope we ourselves--spiritually broken and weak though we might be--have experienced transformation; being made spiritually beautiful, strong and bright through the love of God found in the Church. It is this love of Christ, and only this love, that can fulfill us and restore us.
May you and your loved ones experience the transformative love of Christ in His Church this Christmas, now and always.
Rev. Father Panagiotis Sotiras, Proistamenos Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church - Stockton, California