How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957) by Ted Geisel (otherwise known as Dr. Seuss) has never been a compelling story to me. Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the pushback against Christmas consumerism, enjoy the musical score, and find Max the dog adorable. But even as a little girl donned in pine tree pajamas and curled up on the couch sipping hot cocoa, watching the VHS tape of the 1966 animated classic always left me feeling… empty.
That is one of the reasons why this December I was surprised to find myself going to see Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier’s The Grinch (2018) with a group of friends. This newest rendition of the story was familiar: the grumpy green Grinch who lives in a cave north of Who-ville hates Christmas. What he hates most of all is the Whos who celebrate the holiday with noisy singing and merry-making. As he ponders how to keep Christmas from coming, a “wonderful, awful idea” occurs to him: disguised as Santa Claus, he will steal the decorations, food, and toys from the Whos (which he in fact does). Just before dumping his sleigh of stolen goods off of the side of Mt. Crumpit, the Grinch hears the Whos down below singing and his heart swells with the realization that there is more to Christmas than the stuff. He then races to return everything he stole and the story concludes around a table with the Grinch carving the roast beast for a bountiful Who feast.
The plot was the same as it has always been, but this time I left the theater with more complex thoughts and emotions than others I had experienced before. In processing the familiar ache of emptiness in my chest and pondering the implications of certain scenes, I was struck by how clearly the longings of the human heart were displayed. And how, without meaning to, this kids movie had come close to (but still missed) communicating the real solution to those longings.
In the inciting incident of the film, the Grinch begrudgingly descends from his mountaintop home into Who-ville to retrieve food for himself and his loyal dog Max. During his trip, the Grinch is chased by exuberant carolers singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Laughter filled the room as we watched the cheery, colorful 3D Whos dance across the screen and pop out of windows to sing, “Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day to save us all from Satan's pow’r when we were gone astray…”
Though this scene is meant to be humorous and light-hearted, two thoughts caused me to cringe. As the exasperated Grinch finally made it into the grocery store and slammed the door behind him to keep the carolers out, Proverbs 25:20 rang through my mind: “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.”
Many people struggle during the holidays. From depression, to loss, to loneliness and everything in between, there are those around us silently suffocating beneath the swirl of cheery Christmas music. Perhaps you are feeling that this season. I know I have. Which is why watching the Grinch flee from those happy Whos called to mind the way we deliver the joyous Good News of Christ’s work matters. We should not shy away from sharing the Gospel. But rather than shouting songs from windows above to those hurting down below, we ought to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time,” and pray as the Apostle Paul did “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3,5).
The second thought was about the Grinch’s eagerness to ignore the carolers and people’s eagerness to ignore the message of the Gospel. On the same day I watched The Grinch (2018), I visited the Kauffman Center in Kansas City to hear George Frederic Handel’s Messiah. That evening, Scriptures communicating the Gospel were sung over a room full of hundreds of people for two hours. Did the professionals on that stage singing the Gospel know Christ any more than those cartoon Whos? How many people were sitting in their seats captivated by the music while also running from and shutting out the Gospel in their hearts?
Seasonal celebrations have become more about seeking peace, gaining a glimpse of beauty, upholding tradition, or experiencing some other common grace than celebrating God incarnate. Nothing quite expresses this sentiment more than the lackluster climax of Mr. Grinch’s story.
Just as he does in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the Grinch accomplishes his plan and pauses upon hearing the Who's down in Who-ville singing. As he closes his eyes and tries to feel what the Whos do, music floods his ears and the sun washes over the mountains as the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes. In a matter of seconds, he looks out and resolves to change his ways—rushing to remedy the wrongs he has done. He finally finds healing from his past in the understanding that Christmas is not about materials, but about the people who you share it with. Little does he know Christmas means so much more!
God has designed us to be in community with one another. But our ultimate design is a dependence upon and communion with God. Without this, all is vanity (Ecc. 1:2). Our hearts may swell momentarily as we savor the earthly gifts we have been given, but we will only taste lasting healing and satisfaction in God (Psalm 107:9). True heart transformation comes from hearing the Good News of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Phil. 2:6-11).
Those who know Christ do not close their eyes and cling to empty “Fahoo fores dahoo dores” while clasping hands in a circle. No—our chorus is glorious. Revelation 19:6-8 depicts people from every tribe, tongue, and nation with “the voice of a great multitude,” which sounds like “the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder,” crying:
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
This is the unified, powerful proclamation of those in eternal fellowship with God. In this promised scene, no bitter tears shall stain the cheeks of the Lord’s Bride. Physical and emotional pain will be banished. Death will pass away. Even the most picturesque towns coated with Christmas lights glittering in the snow will pale in comparison to the New Jerusalem, “having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (Rev. 21:11). In this eternal city, there will be no darkness, for “the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (v. 23). And, most importantly, that light shall never cease because God will dwell with us (v. 3). In other words, all semblance of loneliness will cease as we enjoy constant communion with the Lord.
Perhaps this year, like the Grinch, you are finding yourself alone and overwhelmed by the bright lights, Christmas melodies, and seemingly empty cheer. Take heart. There is a message deeper and more powerful than trite traditions. Surprisingly enough, it is a message which (in part) shone through one of the movie’s last conversations.
In the final minutes of the film, my own heart grew three sizes when Cindy Lou showed up on the doorstep of the Grinch to extend an unmerited invitation to dinner at her family’s home. Though he insists on his unworthiness to receive such grace—and though she acknowledges he has done nothing to deserve it—the little girl sincerely invites him anyway.
So it is with Christ; though the invitation is much sweeter. No matter who you are or what you have done, there is hope for your past, present, and future promised in Romans 3:23-25:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
You could never do anything to deserve this grace. Yet it is freely given! So, come. Lay yourself at the feet of Christ. Look unto him and receive the gift of his saving grace.
The marriage supper of the Lamb awaits. Please, come. Join the feast.