Charlie Brown’s search for the true meaning of Christmas took him to several friends who all had different ideas about how to turn his attitude around and get the most out of the holiday. The first person Charlie Brown talks to is the one who believes she has all the answers, Lucy. Lucy is at her psychiatric booth when Charlie Brown comes up to discuss his problem.
What Lucy decides Charlie Brown needs is involvement, better yet, he needs the ability to direct, which means he is the one to tell others what to do. He gets to be in control. The reason this makes sense for Lucy is because for her, life is all about being in control. Lucy loves to be in control, in fact, while Lucy tells Charlie Brown he is going to direct the play, she is the one who decides what part everyone gets. For Lucy it is all about being in control and having things her way and if she doesn’t get her way, she is willing to force the issue.
For Lucy, life is all about being in control. For many of us, life feels healthy, balanced and good when we are in control and when we get our way. Do any of you struggle with this need to be in control? Most of us really like to get things our way and our need for control may be seen in little things like who gets to hold the remote control or who set’s the thermostat at night, or maybe our need for control is seen in larger issues like how money is spent in the family.
This time of year the fight for control can be big, especially for newlyweds. Newly married couples have an entire list of decisions they have to work through in order to celebrate their first Christmas. What kind of tree do you put up, artificial or real? What about lights – white or colored? Blinking or non-blinking? When do you open gifts, Christmas Eve or Christmas day? What about the food on the table, will it be turkey? Ham? Roast Beef? (solve that problem by coming to eat here!) Whether it is Christmas or any other season of the year, most of us like getting our own way – we like to be in control. It is the human condition and in many ways it is the original sin.
Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden. God told them they could eat of any tree they wanted, just not the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:16-17. God gave them control over everything in the garden except eating from one tree and what do Adam and Eve immediately want to do, they want to eat from that tree. They want total control of their lives. They want to be the ones making all the decisions. They want things their way so they disobey God and do the one thing they were told not to do. It was this decision to take control that broke their relationship with God. Their need to be in control not only broke that relationship it broke the relationship they had with each other. Look what happens when God asks them what is going on, Genesis 3:11b-13.
When questioned by God about what they had done, Adam and Eve aren’t honest but they also don’t support each other. Adam throws Eve under the bus by saying, she made me do it and then Eve places the blame on the serpent. Not only is their relationship with God broken but their relationship with each other is broken. Our need to be in control leads to sin which destroys our relationship with God and one another which leads to all kinds of evil in our world.
But God does not leave us in our sin and God does not leave us in our broken relationships. God offers forgiveness and God restores relationships but only when we are willing to give it up – give up control. Giving up control was the message of John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for Jesus. Mark 1:1-5. John prepared people for Jesus by calling them to give up control of their lives and turn back to God and they did this through repentance.
The process of repentance requires two things and the first one is confession. We first need to confess that we are sinners. We need to confess that like Adam and Eve we like to control everything and we like to get our own way and that all too often we disregard others in order to get it. We are like Lucy giving people 5 good reasons we should be in control, but this way of life is killing us. Confession our control issues isn’t easy because while we can see the issues of control in other people’s lives, it is not easy to see it in our own.
Why is it that we can see how our spouses, children, parents and coworkers are all control freaks but if someone points it out in our own lives we get defensive? We just don’t see those issues in our own lives and if our eyes are ever opened so we do see it, just like Adam and Eve, we make excuses or blame others. If we want to experience the fullness of life God has for us then we need to repent and the first step of repentance is to acknowledge our own sin and our own issues of control. So confession is the first step, but it is not the final step.
The repentance John talked of was twofold, there was confession of sin and then baptism. John took people down into the Jordan River and plunged them under the water and then lifted them up again in a symbol of new life. They were dying to their sin and rising up to live life differently. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, baptism wasn’t just a symbol of death and new life there was a real connection we had to the death and new life of Jesus. In Romans 6 it says we were baptized into his death and raised with him to new life. Romans 6:6 says, for we know that our old self was crucified with Christ so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. So through Jesus’ death our sin has been destroyed so that like Jesus we can be raised up to live a new life.
So repentance isn’t just acknowledging our faults and saying that we are sorry, it is turning away from that sin to live life differently. The word repent means to turn and so there has to be this desire to turn away from sin, or in this case to turn away from being in control, so that God can be in control and fill us with the life he has to give us. God has always wanted to have this kind of presence and control in our lives. While God gave us free will, God always wanted us to live in a relationship with him where we allowed God to lead us.
God created us and so God knows what is best for us and if we will allow God to lead us and in healthy ways control us we will experience the fullness of life God has for us. When we give control back to God we become connected to God through the Holy Spirit and it is the Holy Spirit that helps us live life differently. It is the Holy Spirit living in us that helps us experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is what we will experience when we give control back to God.
We see that one of the fruits of God’s spirit is peace and this is not an absence of violence or conflict as much as it is a deep connection we experience with God and others. Peace is what opens the door to forgiveness and helps us reconcile and build relationships. So it is in giving control back to God that we experience stronger relationships with one another. This was true for one man in the Bible who struggled with his own need to be in control of a situation that was quickly getting out of control.
Joseph was engaged to a woman named Mary and everything looked ideal for them, until Mary came and told him that she was pregnant. How quickly life can get out of control. Joseph knew that he was not the father and he struggled to believe what Mary said about God being the Father so he took control of the situation and decided to dismiss Mary quietly. He cared for Mary and didn’t want her held up to disgrace and maybe even death, so he controlled the fallout and was going to simply divorce her. That was Joseph’s plan until one night when Joseph had a dream. Matthew 1:20-21.
God’s plan was for Joseph to take Mary as his wife because the child she carried was God’s and was going to be the Messiah. Joseph had his part to play in God’s plan but the choice was his. Joseph could maintain control of his life and follow his plans or he could give up or give back control to God and follow God’s plan. Joseph followed God’s plan and while things weren’t easy – Joseph was able to experience the blessing of God. Joseph giving control of his life back to God also helped Mary and the world experience the blessing of God that came through Jesus.
For Lucy, finding meaning in life came from being in control and that’s what she offered to Charlie Brown. To find meaning in Christmas, Charlie Brown, get involved and take control, but it didn’t work and it never will. Meaning and purpose and fulfillment in life aren’t found in keeping control but in giving it up or giving it back to God. The best gift we can give ourselves this year is the gift of repentance. If we can acknowledge our need to be in control and confess the ways that this is killing us, then we can begin to let it go and allow God to lead us to life.
Communion provides us the opportunity to do just that. By coming to the table and sharing in this meal we are saying that all our attempts to feed ourselves and find life in all that we can do has failed and so today we are going to stop trying to do it all on our own and allow God to feed us and nourish us and guide is in the way of life. So let us give it up and come to Jesus at the table so we can gain it all.
A Charlie Brown Christmas ~ Give It Up!
1. In what areas of the Christmas Season do you like to get your way and be in control? In what areas of life do you like to get your way and be in control?
2. Giving control back to God comes through repentance and repentance calls for confession and new life (baptism).
• Confession: What issues of control that are negative and destructive to your life and relationships can you identify? Acknowledge these and confess them to God.
• New Life: What one area of this holiday celebration can you give over control to someone else?
3. Christmas is often a time of making “to do” lists, this year make some “to be” lists. I will be…
• in the moment,
• spending more time with my family,
• focused on joy, etc…
4. John the Baptist helped prepare people for Jesus.
• Who helped prepare you to hear and receive the grace of God through Jesus?
• Name and pray for one person you can help prepare to hear and receive the grace of God through Jesus.
• What one thing can you do this week to help prepare this person to accept Jesus as their Savior?