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FIRST-PERSON: Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–It almost did not air. Network executives thought it moved too slowly for a Christmas special. They also were convinced that the absence of a laugh track, a staple of 1960 era comedies, would be the kiss of death.

To further complicate matters, the man behind the cast of animated characters insisted upon using real kids for the voice-overs. As a result, only a couple of the children who were cast had any acting experience.

However, what most concerned the suits at CBS was the religious content. The climax of the 30-minute program focused on a main character quoting Scripture.

The executive producer even insisted that the Bible could not be read on network television. However, the creator of what has become a Christmas classic refused to edit or otherwise water-down the content.

In spite of network executives’ concerns, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” made its television debut on Thursday, Dec. 9, 1965. The result: More than 15 million homes tuned in and it captured nearly half of the possible audience.

The week it aired, the show was No. 2 in the ratings. It went on to win critical acclaim as well as an Emmy Award for outstanding children’s program and a Peabody Award for excellence in programming.

The executives at CBS were stunned at the program’s success. Lee Mendelson, executive producer of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” told USA Today, “When I started reading the reviews, I was shocked…. They actually liked it.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the animated classic that features the Peanuts characters created by Charles Schultz. The storyline not only exposes the crass commercialization that characterizes too much of American Christmas, but it also highlights the real reason for the season. And after four decades, it continues to be popular.

The so-called experts are still scratching their collective heads over the success of Charlie Brown. Explanations for the show’s longevity abound.

Some suggest the popularity is due to the genius of Schultz and the popularity of the characters he created. Others insist that it is the craving for nostalgia of the baby-boom generation that fuels the seasonal success of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Contrary to expert speculation about Charlie Brown’s success, I believe the popularity of Charles Schultz’s story about the round-headed boy’s search for the true meaning of Christmas runs deeper than superficial sentiment for characters or the desire to reminisce. The success of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is anchored in truth.

In a society that is on the verge of committing politically correct suicide, “Charlie Brown” dares to declare the simple truth that the reason for the season is the birth of Jesus Christ.

When Charlie Brown shouts in desperation, “Isn’t there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?” Linus responds, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you.” He then takes center stage and quotes verbatim the King James Version of Luke 2:8-14.

With simple eloquence, the blanket-clutching character unashamedly announces, “For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

Linus’ quotation stands in stark contrast to a popular culture that seeks to ban the Guest of Honor from His own celebration. The message of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the supernatural reality that God sent His only begotten son into the world so the world might through Him be saved.

In the 40 years since Charles Schultz first communicated the simple truth of Christmas through his beloved Peanuts characters, American culture has grown more secular and politically correct. However, the hearts of individuals still yearn for truth and meaning.

In the vast wasteland that characterizes much of the American Christmas experience, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is an oasis of truth. Year after year, thirsty souls have taken time to drink deeply the profound truth that God became a man.

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!
Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.

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  • Kelly Boggs