Sermon 12-08-13: “Reel Christmas, Part 2: How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

December 14, 2013


Our gospel lesson today tells the story of a real-life Grinch named Zacchaeus, who, like the green creature in the holiday TV classic, steals from others before repenting and being transformed by love. Like the Grinch, our lives can also be transformed by love—God’s love, as demonstrated through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus. We Christians have much to learn from the Whos as well. Outside the walls of our church we have “Grinches” who are awaiting their invitation to experience God’s life-changing love, grace, and mercy. Will we go out and invite them, or wait for them to come to us?

Click here to read or watch Part 1 of this sermon series on It’s a Wonderful Life.

Sermon Text: Luke 19:1-10

The following is my original sermon manuscript with videos inserted in the right places. Please note: the video below preceded the beginning of the sermon.

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 let us know how much he hated it by using some colorful language to describe it, believe me.

But Dad’s salty language didn’t bother us kids 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.

Last Christmas, a Scroogey Facebook friend posted the following on my wall: 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 during the winter solstice—which like all major astronomical events in the ancient world 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 21, 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 can be! 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!”[3] 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, however, 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.

Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey got into hot water last week for posting a list on his blog called “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day.” It said things like this: “76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.” “88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% of poor.” Ramsey was harshly criticized by many people, including many Christians, for implying that if you do these things, then you’ll be rich. Or for failing to appreciate that if you’re really poor, you may not have time or money to do some of the things on the list. I understand the criticism. But I also appreciate Ramsey’s response to the criticism. After clarifying a few things about what he intended to say, he writes,

The talents and treasures on this earth are not distributed equally, and that is not fair—or is it? God has chosen to give most of you better hair than me, to make Tiger Woods a better golfer than me, to make Brad Paisley a better guitarist than me, and to make Max Lucado a better writer than me. With God’s grace, I am fine with that. I am not angry at them, and I don’t think they have done something wrong by becoming successful.

Have you noticed that there’s always someone better looking than you? There’s always someone more talented than you? There’s always someone more successful than you? There’s always someone who’s a better preacher than you are! What are you going to do about it? Sit on top of a mountain and make yourself miserable with jealousy, like the Grinch? Jealousy or envy or covetousness is a serious sin, a violation of the tenth commandment. And it’s even at the root of the first murder in recorded history, when Cain is jealous of his brother Abel for offering a more generous sacrifice to God.

What if you resolved that other people’s happiness or success or wealth or popularity or good looks has nothing whatsoever to do with you? What if you told yourself instead that God has given you this particular life, and these particular gifts, and this particular personality, and has placed you in this particular family, with these particular friends for a reason. And he’s already given you everything you need to be happy and filled with joy. If you struggle to believe this about yourself, tell yourself something like this: “Brent, if the Lord wanted you to be Andy Stanley, he would have made you into Andy Stanley. You are Brent because he made you that way. And he wants to make you into the very best best Brent possible. So repent of this awful sin. Surrender more of your life to him. And follow him as Lord of your life. And if you do, you will find that you would rather be Brent than anyone else in the world.”

But can we spare a little sympathy for the Grinch? He complains about the Whos making a lot of noise, and maybe he has a point: maybe they were being inconsiderate—haven’t we all had inconsiderate neighbors making too much noise? Did the Whos not realize that they had a neighbor up on Mount Crumpit. If they did, would it have killed them to invite him to join their celebration?

Think about it: where are the other Grinch-like creatures? There are all these hundreds of humanoid Who creatures down in the valley. Why are there no Grinch-like creatures? Where is the Grinch’s family and friends? What happened in his life that he’s all alone? We can only imagine how the Grinch has suffered in his life.

But our Christian hope is that God is always ready, willing, and able to transform our suffering into something incredibly good, if only we’ll let him. After all, look at what God did with the cross of his Son Jesus: He took the world’s worst evil, worst sin, worst injustice, worst suffering and transformed into the very best thing imaginable: forgiveness… salvation… new life… resurrection. If God can take the worst thing that’s ever happened and turn it into the best thing that’s ever happened, well… to say the least, he can certainly do the same with the worst things in our life!

In this next clip, the Grinch implements a plan to keep Christmas from coming.

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 Nintendos and Playstations. I got an early video game system called Intellivision, from Mattel Electronics. It was like Atari, but way, way better. 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 the Grinch… 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.”[4] 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.”[5] The Laodiceans professed faith in Christ, but they put their trust in money and possessions. Do we ever 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.

I went to the Georgia-Georgia Tech game last Saturday, and I was proud of myself because I didn’t act as if the world had come to an end when Tech lost such a close, hard-fought game. Years ago, when my children were very young, I was watching another close, hard-fought game between Tech and Georgia. My team 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.”[6]

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 we’re doing it 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.

You may remember 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.”[7] 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 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 this amazing gift of love and acceptance. Perhaps, instead of opening their circle to include the Grinch only after he came down the mountain to join them, the Whos could have climbed up Mount Crumpit themselves and invited the Grinch to 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] Luke 2:13-14

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

[5] Revelation 3:17

[6] Matthew 19:14

[7] Luke 19:9

2 Responses to “Sermon 12-08-13: “Reel Christmas, Part 2: How the Grinch Stole Christmas!””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, a wonderful sermon (and a wonderful movie as well). One early point you made especially stood out to me–don’t be jealous of what others have that you don’t. For the most part I have not been troubled too much by that problem, but here recently it has been plaguing me somewhat. Thanks for the timely reminder!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: