How the Grinch Stole Christmas is my second favorite Christmas television special for children. My favorite, of course, is the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, which ends with Linus's beautiful recitation of the second chapter of Luke.
The Grinch is a close runner-up because it sounds very much like the gospel. For those of you who have not read or seen Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas [New York: Random House, 1957], the story goes like this:
Down in Who-ville
Liked Christmas a lot…
But the Grinch,
Who lived just north of Who-ville,
The obvious question is “Why didn't the Grinch like Christmas?” No one knows for sure. But after probing into the possible causes of the Grinch's unholy disaffection for Christmas, Dr. Seuss concludes that “the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” The Grinch, you see, had a sinful heart.
An evil heart leads to evil thoughts. The Grinch “stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos, Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown.” He decided he “must find some way to stop Christmas from coming!”
Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!
GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA!
Evil thoughts give birth to evil actions. First the Grinch made a Santa Claus hat and a coat—he was handy with a needle and thread, apparently. Then he turned his dog, Max, into a reindeer by tying some antlers on his head.
He loaded some bags
And some old empty sacks
On a ramshackle sleigh
And he hitched up old Max.
The Grinch coasted into Who-ville on his sleigh. He gathered up all the stockings, all the presents, all the ornaments and all the food.
And he stuffed them in bags. Then the Grinch, very nimbly,
Stuffed all the bags, one by one, up the chimbley!
It was quarter past dawn…
All the Whos, still a-bed,
All the Whos, still a-snooze
When he packed up his sled,
Packed it up with their presents! The ribbons! The wrappings!
The tags! And the tinsel! The trimmings! The trappings!
Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpit,
He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it!
The evil heart takes pride in its evil actions. So when he got to the top of Mt. Crumpit the Grinch paused for a minute or two, so he could hear all the Whos down in Who-ville cry “BOO-HOO.”
“That's a noise,” grinned the Grinch,
“That I simply MUST hear!”
So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow…
But the sound wasn't sad!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
Then the Grinch's heart was strangely warmed.
He puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn't come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”
And what happened then… ?
Well… in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
The Grinch turned his sleigh around and whizzed back to Who-ville with all the Christmas-day stuff and he joined with the Whos for their Christmas-day feast.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas sounds very much like the gospel. It is a story of redemption. It is a conversion narrative. It is a story about hate being transformed into love. It is a story about how a sinner became a saint. It is a testimony of a heart-changing experience.
I am not suggesting that Theodor Geisel intended How the Grinch Stole Christmas to sound like the good news about Jesus Christ. In fact, you might see The Grinch as an imposter. It is a Christmas story without the Christ. Furthermore, there is nothing supernatural about the Grinch's conversion. It takes more than a Christmas carol to change a sinner's heart; only the Holy Spirit can do that. The Grinch is only a cheap imitation of the real Christmas story.
But why does The Grinch sound at least a little bit like the gospel?
We read in the book of Ecclesiastes that God has set eternity in the hearts of men (Eccles. 3:11). That verse means that men, women and children are made for God. Every one of us has a longing for the eternal God. The North African theologian Augustine put it like this: “Our hearts are restless till we find our rest in Thee.” All of our other longings in life are really longings for God. We were made for eternity.
Our desire for God always shows up in our stories. God sets eternity in the hearts of men. And then men, women and children put their longing for eternity into their stories. All the best stories sound at least a little bit like the gospel. All the best stories say that evil is evil and that the human heart is made for love. All the best stories show that good triumphs over evil in the end and we all live happily ever after.
Do you ever wish that a story like How the Grinch Stole Christmas could really come true? The reason you long for the Grinch to come coasting back down the mountain with all the goodies is that God has set eternity in your heart. Like all the best stories, The Grinch points toward the One True Story about how God sent his own Son to turn our hearts from hate to love and take us home to live with him, happily ever after.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org