For several years I have read the much loved Dr Seuss story about the Christmas hating Grinch as the Christmas Eve sermon. While this is an unconventional sermon theme, this story has always been a clear and easy to understand version of our human comprehension of Christmas and the Divine purpose of the Incarnation; what we think this day is all about versus what God is all about doing.
The Grinch is a grumpy old guy who is not at all fond of all the Christmas revelry that his neighbors down the mountain enjoy each year. The Whos down in Whoville, who like Christmas a lot, seem to put a great deal of energy into celebrating the holiday, with lots of gifts and feasting and singing. In fact, the Grinch hates it all so much he plots to steal Christmas itself, drag it to the top of his mountain and dump it all off the side into the abyss.
Yeah, that’ll fix ‘em! They won’t be all happy and noisy then, will they! They’ll all just go Booooo Hooooo Hooooo!
As if Christmas were a thing that could be stolen, taken or destroyed. Or canceled for that matter (I’m looking at you, Santa Clause—trying to cancel because of a little bad weather when you had Rudolph all along!) But we are often afraid of that aren’t we? We are afraid and angry (which is being afraid in disguise) when it looks like our Christmas traditions are being somehow challenged. And yet to date, no one has ever been able to actually cancel Christmas. It keeps coming no matter what. That’s the thing about God; it is rarely if ever about what we do and always about what God is has done, is doing and promises yet to do.
It is interesting that the Grinch’s neighbors are Whos. It is as if he doesn’t really know them. Who are they, these creatures with joy and celebration? Maybe the Grinch was a Who at some point and something happened to him to make him this way. Perhaps his shoes are too tight. Most likely it is because his heart is shrunken and cold.
Donning the iconic red and white uniform, the Grinch becomes an Anti-Clause and slinks around Whoville in the middle of the night stealing each thing he believes to be the source of Who celebration and Who joy. Gifts and toys, trees and lights, fire logs and food. There is even an incredibly sinister exchange between Cindy Lou Who, who is no more than two, and the Grinchy Clause, when he has to explain to the little tot why he’s taking the Christmas tree. It is sinister not just because it is a creepy criminal telling a lie to a child and then tucking her back into bed, but it is also a moment in the story where the Grinch actually comes face to face with innocence and has a moment of choice. In this moment he can see the reality of what he is doing, stealing from children, but he does not choose to stop or, to use a church word here, repent and change his ways. Instead he tells a big fat lie, getting out of a spot as tight as a dirty old chimney, and goes on to perpetrate the same crimes over and over again at the other whos’ houses.
The Grinch is just delighted with himself and his sleigh full of loot! With the help of his poor little dog Max he has gotten it to his mountain and is ready to dump it all. His heart is so small, so crushed and broken, that cruelty and inflicting pain look like happiness to him. He has stolen all the things that he thinks bring joy to the Whos, but he isn’t even keeping a single one of these joy bringing things. Even though he believes the happiness the Whos have is in the things, he doesn’t want that happiness for himself either.
I do not know what kind of creature the Grinch is, but he definitely has a lot in common with humans. When we are jealous, angry, vengeful, or afraid, we do Grinch-like things. We live in a very Grinch like culture, where the goal is not harmony but winning the argument, and winning means destroying the opponent. The snappy come back, the cruel zinger responses, and put-them-in-their-place shaming are all significant parts of human interaction we see on television in both fiction and non fiction shows. Our culture also tells us that happiness and fulfillment come from acquiring things and acquiring people, too, as though people were merely things as well. Do we ever find ourselves at the top of Mt Crumpet ready to tip a vengeful pile into the abyss? Do we ever find ourselves doing something mean spirited or thoughtless because our own hearts feel small, cold and broken?
In the book if Ezekiel, God says: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
A heart of compassion and love.
Just before he gets ready to dump his haul of stuff, the Grinch listens for the Booooo Hoooo Hoooos he is expecting to waft up from the valley below. But instead he hears the Whos singing. Taking out all the Seussian made up words, this is what he hears:
Welcome Christmas, Come this way! Welcome Christmas, Christmas Day. Christmas day is in our grasp So long as we have hands to clasp. Welcome Christmas Bring your cheer. Welcome all Whos Far and near. Christmas day will always be Just so long as we have we. Welcome Christmas Bring your light. Welcome Christmas While we stand Heart to heart and hand in hand.
The original lyrics to the song for the tv special uses the word “welcome” sixteen times. I have to think that the Whos were fans of Advent. They sing that song like they have been waiting to sing it, lighting candles and planning and thinking about how great it is going to be to sing that Welcome Christmas song on that day!
And that song becomes a kind of Good News message to the Grinch. The realization that Christmas came despite all his best efforts to stop it brings about a change in him. His heart grows and grows that day and he races back to Whoville to return everything. The Whovillians, being the excellent symbols of grace and mercy that they are, welcome him into the heart of their singing circle.
The story ends, as all good stories do, with a great feast. As the honored guest, with a redeemed and renewed heart, the Grinch carves the roast beast. But I would say that the host is actually the long awaited and joyously welcomed Christmas itself.
The prophet Isaiah, someone we hear from a great deal leading up to Christmas, says: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines… And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.”
Lo, this is our God, we have waited for him so he might save us! A very merry Christmas to you all!