“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is one of my favorite Christmas specials. Like most people, I have always loved the scripture recitation of Luke 2:8-14 that Linus delivers. I consider it the quintessential reading for a Christmas service.
Alas, in the Catholic tradition, this verse is read only at the midnight Mass, which we never attended when I was growing up. The readings at the other three Masses (Vigil, Dawn, and Day), while each relevant, never captured the essence of the season in the same way — at least for me.*
Lately our family has attended Christmas services at a United Church of Christ, one where our son sings in the choir and another where he used to direct the music. These services contain several readings, including the “Linus” one.
Yet, as translated by the UCC’s New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (and, for that matter, the Catholic Church’s New American Bible), it doesn’t contain the same familiar poetic language as the King James Version used in the Peanuts special. Meanwhile, I find other passages in the KJV difficult to get through. Perhaps what allows me to enjoy the beauty of this classic announcement of the birth of Christ is years of repetition and the memory of Linus’s gentle voice.
*These are the Gospel readings (and their “themes,” according to my Sunday Missal) for the four services celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on Dec. 24-25:
- Vigil Mass – Matthew 1:1-25 (Jesus, God-with-us)
- Mass during the Night (not always at midnight anymore) – Luke 2:1-14 (Birth of Christ; verses 1-7 are mostly about taxation as the reason Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem; verse 8 is where Linus begins)
- Mass at Dawn – Luke 2:15-20 (Jesus, the God-man; this begins where the previous Mass’s Gospel reading ends)
- Mass during the Day – John 1:1-18 (The True Light)