Thursday, December 13, 2012

Overcoming the Grinch

This is the third entry in a series looking at some of our favorite Christmas TV shows and movies, and talking about God's message especially to those who do not enjoy the Advent and Christmas seasons. Those who know me well may recognize some of this from a sermon series I did during last year's Advent season. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Green with envy © 1966 Turner Entertainment Co.
The Grinch is green with envy!
Today: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

This classic tale first appeared as a children's book in 1957, but was immortalized as a half-hour cartoon special a decade later, and was even turned into a full-length movie with Jim Carrey in 2000. While Dr. Seuss is well-known for many of his stories, for me, How the Grinch Stole Christmas has always been my favorite.

“Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot...
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.”
- Dr. Seuss

Even if you haven’t seen the show or read the book recently, the Grinch is one of those characters who's easy to recognize because he looks so strange. He’s furry from head to toe, like a wild animal, but he walks and talks like a human, and in that way, he’s just like every other Who in Who-ville. He makes for himself a Santa Claus outfit, but it’s very plain to see he’s not the real thing. And in the book, he’s white, but in the TV version, they colored him green (with envy?), which I think is very appropriate. The Grinch is an odd-looking character, to be sure, but as I showed with George Bailey last week and Charlie Brown the week before, just because he’s a character in a fictional tale, that doesn’t mean the Grinch isn't real.

What do I mean? Well, the Grinch hates Christmas, and will do anything he can to keep it from coming. And for as long as there has been a Christmas – since the birth of Christ – there have always been people who hated it and tried to get rid of it. The Bible tells us how King Herod was like the Grinch, because he pretended to be someone he wasn’t when he had evil intentions. He told the wise men he wanted to know about the Christ child so he could come and worship, but he really wanted to kill Jesus and prevent him from becoming king. When the wise men didn’t return, Herod showed his true colors and had all the children in Bethlehem under two years of age put to death! (see Matthew 2)

Herod did his best to get rid of Christmas by trying to get rid of Christ. But Herod wasn’t the only one. Satan himself wanted to get rid of Christmas, too. In Revelation 12, John pictures a dragon, whom we understand to be Satan, waiting for a woman to give birth so he might devour the baby as soon as it’s born. But the woman and child are whisked away by God to safety, just as Mary and Jesus were saved from Herod’s plot when God warned Joseph in a dream to take his family and go to Egypt.

But just because Satan wasn't successful 2,000 years ago, that doesn’t mean he has given up. The Grinch still tries to steal Christmas every year. He couldn’t kill Jesus when he was first born, but the Grinch still wants to eliminate Christ from Christmas today. And I think the biggest way he does this is not by getting people to say, "Happy Holidays," but by tricking us into shifting our focus from the Source of Joy to other things so he can steal our joy.

See, this season is all about joy. Remember the angel announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:

"I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."
- Luke 2:10b (KJV)

The mean old Grinch can’t stand it when we have joy! He doesn’t want us singing and celebrating – he wants us to be miserable like him – so he tries everything he can to steal our joy, and sometimes he knows all the right buttons to push to get his way!

Giving gifts is a great way to show somebody you love them. God started the tradition by giving us his Son. The wise men continued it by bringing presents to baby Jesus. And we, likewise, offer our gifts up to God. So it seems natural that one day, someone said, “Maybe as we focus on the love of God, we should also remember how much we love each other, and we can express that with gifts for each other, too!”

He's a mean one...
It's not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the idea of sharing presents (personally, I’m holding out for a Red Ryder BB gun, but Amber thinks I'll shoot my eye out!), but when we become too consumed with presents at Christmastime - whether giving or receiving - the Grinch will try to steal our joy. Remember, in Dr. Seuss’ tale, when he first broke into the Whos’ houses, the first things the Grinch stole were their stockings and their presents!

The Grinch steals your joy when you don’t get what you asked for or you get something you really don’t want. He steals your joy because you bought a present for somebody, but they didn’t buy one for you. Maybe he even steals your joy before the exchange happens, because going shopping during the holiday season can be a total nightmare! There’s nowhere to park, the stores are over-crowded, and some people are just downright MEAN when they’re out there buying Christmas presents, so we have to really watch out!

He's a foul one...
After he stole the Whos’ presents, the Grinch raided the iceboxes and stole their roast beasts. Big family meals can be exciting and wonderful when everybody gathers in a spirit of love, but the Grinch loves to ruin our feasts. Maybe they’re ruined because it’s impossible to get everybody together at the same time. Maybe they’re ruined because there’s an empty chair where someone has passed away this year. Or maybe there’s a family member who just rubs you the wrong way, and you even begin to feel like they’re a real-life Grinch - they’re disguised as someone who should be nice and loving, but in reality, they almost seem to delight in stealing your joy!

And when the Grinch had taken their presents and their feasts, the last thing he took was their Christmas trees. To me, that represents not just decorations, but our favorite holiday traditions. You know, sometimes you think it just wouldn’t be Christmas if you didn’t have your tree trimmed just right, or if you didn’t have the right music or the right programs on TV. It wouldn’t be right if you didn’t gather around the fireplace and read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas or the story of the Nativity. There’s a certain amount of comfort that comes with doing things the way you’ve always done them. It makes you feel so good inside when things go the way they should. But things don’t always go as they should. Your favorite Christmas program isn’t always on at a time you can watch it, or somebody has a different idea for how to decorate the tree this year, and you’re gonna miss your favorite decorations.

He's a monster!
That happened to me a few years ago. Amber and I have several ornaments from when we were kids, but she decided one year that she didn’t want to put up the traditional decor. Instead, she wanted blue and silver ornaments with snowmen, and nothing personal. I fought with her about it for a while, but I finally let her do what she wanted, with the compromise that I could hang one personal ornament low on one side that had a picture of my grandparents. The Grinch tried to steal my joy, but when I took a deep breath and thought about it, we still had a pretty tree, and after all, our joy doesn’t really come from the ornaments...or it shouldn’t.

What zaps your Christmas spirit? Maybe it’s something I’ve mentioned, or maybe it’s something else. But let me tell you, the Grinch couldn’t stop Christmas from coming 2,000 years ago, and he couldn’t keep Christmas from coming in Dr. Seuss’ story, and there’s no reason the Grinch should be successful this year, either!

Often, I think, we allow the Grinch to trick us because he points us to things that seem to make us happy, but there’s a huge difference between happiness and joy. Happiness depends on what happens, but joy does not. Happiness won't come when you’re disappointed by the gifts you get or when the family fights at the dinner table or the tree doesn’t look right. But joy means we can celebrate even when things go wrong. I’m not just talking about being hopeful like Charlie Brown or learning to be content like George Bailey, but I mean having a deep down reason to celebrate, whether what happens around us is good or not!

So where does real joy come from? Consider these words from the prophet Isaiah:

You will say on that day:
I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
and you comforted me.

Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say on that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
- Isaiah 12:1-6

The reason we can have joy at Christmas is because the Grinch has already lost the battle! (Revelation 20:10) We can have joy because we know that God provided a way when we were lost in sin! (Romans 5:8) We can have joy because our mighty God has never given up on us! We can have joy because we "remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray"! Our joy comes from knowing that Jesus is Emmanuel - God with us - walking with us through everything good and bad! Joy comes from knowing that God loves us regardless of who we are or where we're from or what we’ve done!

So when that Grinch gets under your skin and tries to steal Christmas again - when you feel your heart shrinking down two sizes too small because things aren’t going how they should - celebrate anyway!

Sing songs of praise and fill your heart with joy, knowing that God loves you so much he sent his Son for you and me and everyone else, to be our Savior! Cling to the joy that comes from God this Christmas, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

If you've accepted God's Christmas gift by making Jesus the Lord of your life, take joy in the God of your salvation! If you haven't accepted that gift for yourself yet, know that God still offers it freely, and there's no better time than right now to pray and receive it - you don't even have to wait til Christmas to open God's present!

Fill up on the joy of the Lord, and see if He doesn’t cause your heart to grow THREE sizes this year!

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