TEXT: Luke 2:1-20
Over the past couple of weeks, the airwaves have been full of all the classic secular Christmas stories. I love all of them, and have seen them many times over. As I thought about them, I noticed that all of the Christmas classics emphasize the truth that Christmas is a time of transformation. In "It's a Wonderful Life," Jimmy Stewart is transformed by experiencing what the world would have been like without him. Rudolph, in the classic Rankin and Bass version of the tale, is transformed as he learns to face his problems rather than running away. Scrooge is transformed by visiting his past and seeing his future, miserable end, and Charlie Brown's transformation is symbolized by the scrawny Christmas tree that he buys which turns into a full, perfect tree under the loving care of friends. I love all of those stories, but I believe there is one story that shows the truth about the transforming power of Christmas better than any other outside of the Gospels. The Grinch.
You see, Jimmy Stewart, Rudolph, and Charlie Brown are all basically good characters with good hearts learning to approach life a little differently with love and support from friends. Scrooge, on the other hand, is nasty to the core, and his transformation comes through the fear of his own miserable death. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss, however, is the only classic Christmas story that I know of where a completely nasty creature is transformed by witnessing the the Spirit of Christmas. It is Christmas itself, stripped of all its trappings, that transforms the Grinch. Do you remember the story?
"Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot.
We begin the story with the Grinch who hates Christmas so much that he wants to make sure nobody is happy on Christmas. This is a step beyond Scrooge who didn't keep Christmas himself, but at least didn't actively interfere with anybody else keeping it. The goal of the Grinch is to steal Christmas from the whole town--to make them as miserable as he is--and he cheers himself with the thought of their crying and wailing on Christmas morning. To accomplish his ends, the Grinch sneaks into town, dressed as Santa Claus, and steals everything associated with Christmas. He takes the presents, the Christmas trees, the decorations, the flowers, the food for Christmas dinner, and the logs for their Yuletide fires. Then he hauls the whole lot up to the top of a high mountain to dump it.
But just before the Grinch goes to dump the sleigh off the mountain, he stops to listen. He won't be satisfied until he actually hears the sobs and cries of a town in misery--the signal that he has destroyed Christmas--the sign that the happiness of Whoville is under his control. But, to his bewilderment, that's not what he hears. Instead of wailing and crying, the Grinch hears the sounds of joy as Christmas carols rise into the air, proclaiming the arrival of Christmas.
"He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming, it came.
This is the thing that transforms the Grinch. He was not transformed by the love of friends -- nobody even knew he was there. He was not changed by discovering that he was headed for a miserable end -- he was quite pleased with what he had done. The Grinch was transformed by an encounter with something bigger than himself -- something that could not be manipulated by human contrivance. Christmas was associated with a lot of trimmings, but Christmas itself was higher and deeper and more mysterious than all of that. And the Grinch's heart -- the one that had been too small for anything but himself -- grew that day to encompass the world.
There's only one other Christmas classic I know of that sends that message. It begins, "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child."
The first century also thought it could steal Christmas. The religious system was too corrupt for Jesus to come there. Joseph wanted to disown Mary and a child that was not his. After he accepted responsibility for the child, there were still problems. The Messiah needed to be born in Bethlehem and the parents lived 80 miles away. When they got there, there was no room to stay and the parents were too poor to bribe someone. Once the baby was born an attempt was made to have him slaughtered.
But they couldn't stop Christmas from coming, it came.
Christmas without trimmings. A babe in a lowly manger. And the encounter transformed the world.
Christmas is coming...Christ will be born. The Christmas story of all time has begun, and you are in it. What part are you playing? What is your Christmas story? Are you so depressed by your place in life that like Jimmy Stewart you want to remove yourself from it all? Or perhaps you are Clarence, the frustrated angel trying to help someone else. Are you so overwhelmed by your problems that like Rudolph you are running away? Maybe you are Rudolph's father, wanting to take back angry words or his mother, worried about his safety. Are you so tired from remembering your miserable past that like Scrooge you are in danger of sleeping through Christmas? Or you might fit in with the Cratchitts, wondering how to put food on the table. Have you maybe gone so far as the Grinch so that you would like to bring others down in misery with you? Or are you in the valley with the Whos, singing carols under the light of a single star? What is your story?
Whatever it is, both the Grinch and Luke have a message for you. No one can steal Christmas. No matter how powerful you are, you can't take it away; and no matter how poor and weak you are, no one can take it from you. The Christ Child will be born. There may not be room in your particular inn. It might be too busy in your end of town for you to notice or there might be a Grinch looking at your loving preparations and resenting your joy enough to try to spoil it. The message of the Christmas story both in Luke and in the Grinch is that Christmas will come anyway. Christ will be born. It won't matter if you don't have a Christmas tree. It won't matter if there are no presents. It won't matter if there is no food and no fire, if you are with others or if it's just you and the dog. It won't matter that there is no fine room. The setting cannot be too humble, you cannot be too poor. It doesn't matter whether anyone notices or whether anybody cares. Christmas can't be stolen and it can't be stopped. Christ will be born.
"He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming, it came.
But if, just by chance, you happen to be looking. If you will stop what you are doing, whether it be good or bad, important or trite -- if you will pause for a moment and put your hand to your ear...you will suddenly find that the air is full of music. There are angels in the unseen, singing all around you. There are hearts overflowing with love. There are the joyful squeals of children, making memories for themselves and others. There are Whos down in Whoville, the tall and the small, who are singing...without any presents at all. Are you among them?
It is Christmas, something bigger than all of us put together. It is God being born into the world to bring salvation near. You don't have to deserve that gift, in fact, you can't deserve it. But you do have to accept it into your heart. You do have to pause with your grinch feet ice cold in the snow, puzzling and puzzling how could it be so? Yet it is so. Just as surely as the Grinch heard singing instead of crying, so Jesus is born to us. Where we should have heard words of judgment and condemnation, instead there was a baby's cry and the words, "Father, forgive them."
If we will stop with our madness for just a moment and realize what Christmas is really all about...
"What happened then, well in Whoville they say
Christ will be born tonight. If you have faith, sing.
Sing without ribbons, sing without tags,
(c) 1999, Anne Robertson
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