This last weekend, we kicked off the Christmas festivities with a youthful production of ‘The Grinch’. It was short and charming, rendered enjoyable by an animated, rougish Grinch. The birthing of this character was a brain-child by one of the full-on practical geniuses of our age, Theodor Seuss Geisel; affectionately known as ‘Dr. Seuss”. In terms of sheer volume of original innovation and artistic productivity, the man can hardly be bested. An illustrator, poet, cartoonist, artist, animator, screen-writer, film-maker, and even Oscar-winner, there was hardly a creative moment wasted in the life of this prolific, beloved man. He was as lively and screwball as the characters he created. For someone who never had any offspring of his own, he certainly became father to entire generations of children who cut their eye-teeth on his uniquely inventive stories and eccentric, fascinating characters. Max Eastman (a rhymer of considerable reputation himself) once commented “A poet in history is divine: a poet in the next room is a joke”, but Dr. Seuss utterly defied this prevalent stereotype with the same light-hearted blitheness by which he turned so many other conventions on their ear. He single-handedly reactivated the stodgy ancient art of poetic epic while at the same time making it delightfully accessible to the hoi-polloi.
Grinch. The word itself crunches with vivid color. It’s become a whole entity in pop culture; a personification for the anti-spirit of Christmas. In the story, of course, the Grinch conspires to steal Christmas and smash the joy of Whoville. He calculates that by stealing all the trappings of the celebration, there can be no delight. He finds out otherwise. As I was watching, I became aware of my own inner Grinch: the part of me that wants the whole noisy, expensive, labor-laden, over-indulgent season to just go away.
A couple of years ago, I rejoiced to spend December visiting my sister in Dubai; a respite I called ‘escaping Christmas’. The simple thought of avoiding the madness and revelry filled me with unspeakable bliss. My inner Grinch delighted in absconding from the concentrated, extroverted, relentless grind of people and parties. Although even climes as far away as Dubai have cashed on the merchandising frenzy, it’s still far more subdued than the insane orgy of expense, hypocrisy and plastic sentiment that jingle jangle in the ears for a painfully protracted season here in North America.
The Grinch stole Christmas in Whoville, but who stole it in Canada? When, and how, did it all become such a sadly saccharine show; a contest in one-upmanship? Last night, driving home, it seemed lights and decorations that had suddenly sprung up overnight. I saw plenty of deer, reindeer, trees, Santas and even Mickey mouse, for crying out loud, but in the 44 displays I counted, not one had anything indicative of the Nativity. Jesus doesn’t even get an honorable mention in His own birthday celebration!
Instead of marking the miraculous, history-changing moment with some kind of devout sincerity, most just enter the prevailing spirit of pagan Bacchanal; an excuse to over-indulge in drink, feasting and other excess under the benign mantle of festal joy. When did Christmas turn into Mardi Gras? And woe to you if you offend the heathens! Don’t you know it’s not politically correct anymore to actually call it Christmas; you’ll have to say X-mas or ‘Happy Holidays’. Wish them ‘Season’s Greetings’, but whatever you do, don’t get religious. When did we knuckle down and start know-towing to these idiots? When did we become so spineless that we let them just walk all over us and steal our territory? And then, to add insult to injury, make us apologize for it!!
Don’t kid yourself; all the same spiritual forces at play centuries ago still raise their ugly heads again as the season of Noel rolls around. Wise men still follow and star and are positioned to find the babe. Herod still shows up in all his cruel colors, seeking to kill anything holy, pious, devout, sanctified or sincere. Ignoramii stumble foolishly around, missing their ordained moment to aid Messiah. The humble still obey angelic direction, and Heaven bursts upon the meek in spirit. It’s playing out one more time, in its ancient, ageless circuit; a testimony to the truth. When it does, the choice is ours as to where we will be found.
Seven hundred years before His birth, Jesus said this to His people.
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you— The sure mercies of David. Isaiah 55:1-3 NKJ
Emmanuel intimately invites us to come to His party. Contrary to popular opinion, the nativity is not a competition in spending, gifting, decorating or entertaining. It’s not about performance. The bling and the bluster may be fun, but they’re not carrying the weight of His presence. He’s not going to help you keep up with the Jones’; He’s not invested in navigating political correctness or social niceties. That’s Herod’s court, not Bethlehem’s manger. It’s all too easy to barter the glory for tinsel, but Emmanuel is present; shimmering below the surface of everyday things. Watch Him manifest in the unpretentious, unassuming, seemingly insignificant minutiae of the season. For a moment at least, lay it all down and just come to the stable. In open-hearted vulnerability is where you will find the feast for your soul.
He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. Luke 1:53 NKJ
Sometimes, it’s good to be Grinch. Strip away all the trimmings, and see if the joy remains.