Sermon 12-09-12: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

December 13, 2012

grinch1

“Like Zacchaeus, all the Grinch needed in order to change his life was an opportunity to experience the love of the Whos. Perhaps, instead of waiting for the Grinch to come to them and then opening their circle to include him, the Whos could have climbed up Mount Crumpit themselves and invited him to come and join them in their celebration. Outside the walls of this church are Grinches waiting for their invitation. Amen.”

Sermon Text: Luke 19:1-10

The following is my original sermon manuscript with the Grinch clips inserted in the proper places.

When I was a kid growing up, my father had two jobs related to trimming the Christmas tree. His main job was hauling it into the garage, sawing the bottom of the trunk off, and fitting it into the tree stand. But his other job was untangling the Christmas tree lights and testing the light bulbs. Remember the days when lights were wired in series, which meant that if just one bulb was out, the entire strand didn’t work. And you had to go bulb by bulb, testing. Untangling and testing. Untangling and testing. Dad hated that job! And he used some colorful language to describe it, believe me.

But Dad’s salty language didn’t bother us in the least. We knew that Christmas was on its way when Dad was cursing about the Christmas tree lights!

I love Christmas! I love it almost as much as the Whos in our story love it—although I wish getting ready for it were as easy as they make it seem. But one thing that this TV special gets exactly right is the sense of excitement and joy and celebration that ought to accompany Christmas. Don’t listen to the Scrooges out there who tell us otherwise

I have a Scroogey Facebook friend who posted on my wall recently. He said, “Dude, you know Christmas is just a pagan holiday in disguise.” It is no such thing! It’s true the Church deliberately chose to celebrate Christmas on the winter solstice—and like all major astronomical events had various pagan rituals associated with it. But they chose the winter solstice because it’s a fitting symbol for Christmas.

After all, think about what the winter solstice means. The summer solstice, which took place this year on June 20, was the longest day of the year—meaning it was the day with the most daylight. From the summer solstice onward, the days get shorter and the nights get longer. Darkness seems to overtake the light. But the winter solstice marks the turning point. From the winter solstice onward, the days get longer: light overtakes the darkness. Can you think of a more fitting time to celebrate Christmas, when, as John’s gospel puts it, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world”[1] And the “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”[2]?

I also appreciate the sheer abandon with which the Whos celebrate Christmas. They put everything, body and soul, into celebrating it—I mean, they even “trim up [their] uncle and their aunt with yards of whofut flant”—and you know how difficult that is! What if we celebrated like that?

I think the Whos have a lot in common with the angels in Luke’s gospel. After one angel makes the announcement to the shepherds abiding in the field, he’s joined by what Luke calls a “great assembly of the heavenly forces,” who are shouting, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” I don’t think these angels rehearsed this in some kind of heavenly choir practice before joining in this heavenly song. I think it was a spontaneous outburst, as if these angels were so happy they couldn’t contain their joy! They had to appear out of heaven to sing God’s praises for sending his Son! Have you ever been so happy you just couldn’t hold it in?

What if our worship was like that? What prevents our worship from being like that?

Not everyone in the story is as excited about Christmas as the Whos. This green creature named the Grinch, for instance. He lives far above Who-ville on top of Mount Crumpit. And he wants to prevent the Whos from celebrating it, as you’ll see in this next clip.

Here’s my question: What does it matter to the Grinch whether or not the Whos celebrate Christmas? Sure, he says it’s all about the noise, but do you believe him? Their noise inside their houses wouldn’t bother him all that much—way up on top of the mountain. Besides, he also says he hates roast beast. So what? They’re not making him eat roast beast. No, the truth is that the Whos’ enjoyment of Christmas shouldn’t affect the Grinch in any way, but it does.

Why?

Because the Grinch is jealous, plain and simple. Because they’re having so much fun, while he’s sitting on top of the mountain feeling miserable. Jealousy or envy or covetousness is a serious sin, a violation of the tenth commandment. It’s at the root of the first murder recorded in the Bible, when Cain is jealous of his brother Abel for offering a more generous sacrifice to God.

A couple of years ago, my birth mother, Linda, who lives in North Carolina, told me that she was watching a preacher on TV, and this preacher was really great, brilliant, dynamic—maybe the best she’d ever heard. Certainly one of the best sermons she’s ever heard! This was confusing to me, because I’m not on TV… and who else would she be talking about? Anyway, she said that it just so happens that his church is in our area. This preacher’s name was… Andy Stanley. Have I heard of him? she asked. Oh, yes. Of course I’ve heard of Andy Stanley. Everybody loves Andy Stanley. Everybody knows that Andy Stanley is a great preacher. And he is!

And you know what else? I don’t like it!

But why? What on earth does Andy Stanley’s success have to do with me or with what I do? It’s ridiculous that I even entertain such a sinful thought!

But here’s my point: When I compare myself to Andy Stanley, I am an utter and complete failure! Even if I work hard to imitate him, at best I can only ever finish second. I will never be as good at being Andy Stanley as Andy Stanley is. But here’s the good news of which I need to remind myself from time to time: God has not called me to be Andy Stanley. God has called me to be Brent White! I need to worry about being the best Brent White I can be, and do what God called me to do. That’s a full-time job right there!

So other people’s happiness or success or wealth or popularity has nothing to do with me. If I lose sight of that then I, like the Grinch, am going to make myself miserable.

So the Grinch implements a plan to keep Christmas from coming, as you’ll see in this next video.

The Grinch’s plan to stop Christmas is to take away all the outward appearances of it, including especially the gifts. He believes that the Whos’ happiness and joy comes from the presents that they receive—their toys.

I said earlier that I love Christmas—and that includes both the gift-giving and the gift-receiving. I am such a kid at heart. At heart I’m still that 10-year-old who, back in 1980, received one of the greatest toys ever—one of my all-time favorite gifts. You kids can keep your XBoxes and Wiis and Playstations. I got an early video game system called Intellivision, from Mattel Electronics. It was like Atari, but way, waybetter. And I still have fond memories of that gift. That same Christmas, a couple of days after receiving this, my favorite toy, I went skiing for the first time—with my family, my cousin Greg, and my sister’s friend Rachel in North Carolina. I was terrible at skiing, and I’m surprised I didn’t break my neck. The point is, my favorite memory of that Christmas wasn’t the expensive toy and it wasn’t the exotic ski vacation… It was playing board games with my family in our cottage after we’d come back from skiing. I could have had that experience without spending a penny on Christmas. People are far more important than possessions.

We’re tempted to look down on the Grinch and think, “Shame, shame, shame… How could he imagine that he could steal Christmas by stealing all these things. Things aren’t what Christmas is about.” As the Whos sing, “Christmas is always in our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp.”

So we’re tempted to look down on him… But, if we’re perfectly honest with ourselves, we might instead forgive the Grinch for being so confused.

In his book Christmas Is Not Your Birthday, United Methodist pastor Mike Slaughter points out that while the size of the American family has shrunk over the last 30 years, the size of our houses has increased 42 percent. “We eat out more,” he says, “and spend less time cooking, yet kitchen sizes have doubled.”[3] He quotes an author who says that, for us, shopping is spirituality. We attempt to find meaning and purpose in products we buy. We confuse our real, built-in desire for God our Creator, with a desire for created things, things that can never possibly satisfy our souls. This is the very definition of idolatry.

In Revelation chapter 3, Jesus tells the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”[4] The Laodiceans professed faith in Christ, but they put their trust in money and possessions. Do we do that? Good old-fashioned American consumerism, which is a form of greed, has this destructive ability to reduce our Christian faith to nothing but words—we say we believe in Jesus, but our faith is somewhere else.

In the next scene, the Grinch encounters a potential problem.

Years ago, when my children were very young, I was watching a close, hard-fought football game between Georgia and Georgia Tech. My team, Georgia Tech, was winning late in the game, but they lost it at the last moment when Georgia scored a touchdown. And I kicked the sofa, I was so angry. Isn’t that silly? I hope I’ve grown as a person since then. Anyway, three or four years after that event, it was time to watch another Georgia-Georgia Tech game. And my son Townshend wanted to watch it with me. He said, “Hey, Dad, are you going to kick the couch again?”

Kids are like that. Like Cindy Lou Who, they’re always watching. Always observing. Always learning from us adults—even when we least suspect it. For kids, faith in God comes easily, naturally. No wonder children hold a special place in God’s kingdom, and in Jesus’ own heart. Remember that scene in the gospels where parents were bringing their kids to Jesus so he could bless them. His disciples worried that they were bothering Jesus. He said, “Allow the children to come to me… Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.”[5]

Some of you parents probably don’t think that you’re gifted when it comes to evangelism. The truth is, however, that all parents, whether we like it or not, are doing the work of evangelism all the time—either well or poorly. Because like it or not, we are teaching our children every day who Jesus Christ is, and what he means to us, and how important our Christian faith is, and what kind of difference it makes in our lives. Because, like Cindy Lou Who, they’re watching. So… What are they seeing in us?

So what happens when the Whos discover that all their presents and food and everything else are missing? Watch this.

We heard earlier about a Grinch in the gospels. His name is Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector, the most hated man in Palestine. Like the Grinch, he literally stole from other people—and because he had the army of the Roman Empire backing him up, the people he stole from were helpless to do anything about it. In the eyes of his fellow countrymen, he’s the worst kind of sinner. But he wants to see Jesus when Jesus passes through town, but he’s short in stature. So he climbs a sycamore tree. And when Jesus passes by, he sees him up there. He calls him by name, and, like the Whos in this TV special, Jesus invites this “sinner” and thief to share a meal with him.

But more importantly, Jesus invites him into a saving relationship with God. And, like the Grinch, Zacchaeus repents and gives back all that he’s stolen—and then some. “Today,” Jesus says of Zacchaeus, “salvation has come to this house.”[6] It’s easy to see that just as the Grinch’s life was transformed by the love of the Whos, so Zacchaeus’s life was transformed by the life-changing love of Jesus Christ—and not just during his natural life, but for all eternity.

Have you experienced this life-changing love? I hope so. If you haven’t, you can. There’s nothing stopping you today from making a decision today to accept God’s gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Think you’re too big of a Grinch for God to love and save you, and make you his beloved child? Think again! Jesus loves Grinches like you and me!

So I hope we can all be more like the Whos… Except in one way. Like Zacchaeus, all the Grinch needed in order to change his life was an opportunity to experience the love of the Whos. Perhaps, instead of waiting for the Grinch to come to them and then opening their circle to include him, the Whos could have climbed up Mount Crumpit themselves and invited himto come and join them in their celebration.

Outside the walls of this church are Grinches waiting for their invitation. Amen.


[1] John 1:9 NRSV

[2] John 1:5 NIV

[3] Mike Slaughter, Christmas Is Not Your Birthday (Nashville: Abingdon, 2011), 77.

[4] Revelation 3:17

[5] Matthew 19:14

[6] Luke 19:9

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