The special opens with a look at a tiny hillside village as festive sleigh bells jingle. It is nearly Christmas time and this town, populated by anthropomorphic animals, is preparing for the big day. Bears are hanging lights on a tree. Badgers are hurrying around for last minute presents. A group of platypi are going door to door and singing "Jingle Bells."
Then we see a brood of vipers slither through the town. They begin causing mischief. They lay in the box of Christmas lights and scare the bears when the ursine creatures pick up the snakes by mistake. They use their fangs to cut holes in the bags the badgers carry, which causes all their gifts to tumble out. Finally they come up to the carolers. An older snake tries to get a younger snake to go trip them as they walk down the street.
"Come on Broody," the older snake says. "It'll be fun."
"I don't know," Broody hesitates.
"Hey guys, it looks like Broody the Baby doesn't have the guts to be a viper."
Broody narrows his eyes and slithers across the street where the platypi are about to finish a rendition of "Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas." He hides in the snow-dusted shrubs and then darts out onto the sidewalk before the duck-billed mammals get to the next house. Each platypus tumbles to the ground as the vipers howl in laughter across the street. Broody darts away but guilt is etched on his face.
Later that night, Broody sees a sign that Santa Claus will be in the town square the next day. He overhears a squirrel and an ostrich talking about how Kris Kringle knows whether the animals have been bad or good. Broody looks crestfallen. He has tried to be a good snake, but he flashes back to tripping the platypus carolers.
The next day, Broody goes to see Santa and tries to apologize for what he did. Santa listens and kindly replies, "Broody Viper, ho ho who warned you to flee from the coming raft?" Broody is confused, "Don't you mean wrath?" Santa's eyes twinkle. "No, young Broody, a raft. The coal that I put in the stockings of bad little boys and girls comes by raft rather than sleigh." Broody thought this was odd, but asked what he could do to make things right.
Santa thought. "You need to show that your heart has changed, Broody. You need to show that the Spirit of Christmas is alive and well in you."
Broody wasn't sure what that meant. He thought and he thought. As he was slithering through town, he sees the bears trying to put up more lights. Broody remembers how his friends had tricked the bears the day before, so he decides to go over and offer to help. As a snake, he is able to slither to the top of the tallest trees. The bears are grateful and it makes Broody feel good that he is able to help. Next he sees the badgers shopping and Broody offers to help them tote their shopping bags around. Then there is a montage of Broody helping other animals through town.
Finally, Broody sees the caroling platypi. He slithers up to them slowly. When the youngest platypus sees Broody, he gets scared. Broody goes into a heartfelt apology about how he wanted his friends to think he was cool and thus treated others poorly, but now he knows that the Spirit of Christmas means treating everyone with kindness and respect. The littlest platypus smiles, gives Broody a hug, and invites the snake to go caroling. Broody has a moving solo during which he sings "Sssssssilent Night."
On Christmas morning, Broody is nervous as he slithers to his tree. Yet he finds all the gifts that he asked for. Attached to a skateboard, is a note that reads: "I knew the Christmas Spirit was in you, Broody! Just remember there is one coming after me who is more powerful than me. Sincerely, S. Claus." Broody was getting a little concerned about Santa's mental well-being. But his mother Mrs. Viper remarks that it is snowing outside. Broody, his mom, dad, and sister all slither to the window and watch the snow fall as triumphant holiday bells ring.
We have this knack for sanitizing our Christmas and Advent stories for children. Honestly, we probably do it just as much for ourselves. We sand down the edges. We diminish the challenging parts. It's hard (though actually way easier than I thought) to do that with John the Baptist. He calls the crowds coming to him a "brood of vipers." He demands that they pursue a life of repentance. He calls people out for coasting on their religious heritage. He uses a lot of fire imagery. None of it seems very Christmas-y but it's there.
It doesn't negate all of the peace, love, and joy that we see in other corners of the Advent and Christmas story. Yet it does look us in the eye and tell us, "Following this way is going to be difficult." It is not just about this warm and fuzzy Christmas spirit. It calls on us to examine our lives and turn away from the parts that hurt our relationship with God and others. It calls on us love sacrificially. None of that is easy or necessarily fun.
But John the Baptist was not playing around. And he wanted those listening to him know that they ought to be fully devoted to the mission of God. He wanted those listening to know that they—a group that, by proxy, includes you and me—should not play around either.