The gospel echoes all around us. We hear bits of it in stories and songs, see it in art and film, and live it in daily acts both small and large.
Because of this, I hunt out gospel hints wherever I can find them. And when it comes to the month of December, with its Advent march toward Christmas and the telling of the birth of Jesus and with its unabashed consumerism and the viewing of holiday movies, the hunting becomes a bit easier.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one of our best gospel echoes which gets retold as it is rewatched each year. Its story is that of the Grinch, a green-furred, yellow-eyed miser, who is living a life of loneliness and isolation (though he does have the ever optimistic dog Max as a companion) and whose personal story is one of hostility and revenge. (And I’m thinking here of the animated version, not the Jim Carrey one, which has never reached the classic status of its animated forbearer.)
Everything about the Grinch arises from his “It’s all about me” story. Not only that, like many of us, he had an event-oriented spirituality. What I mean by this is he thinks that if one thing happens, if one thing chances, if he’s able to do or accomplish one thing, his whole life finally will be great. For him, that one thing is the silencing of the Whos’ noise, noise, noise, by stealing their toys. For the rest of us, it comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes: a new job, a new pair of shoes, a vacation, a puppy, a conference, a book, the firing of that annoying coworker, our team winning the championship — some event that is going to make me happy (finally).
Event spiritualities are anti-gospel wish-dreams which always let us down. Always. Even if the Grinch succeeds, he won’t find the hoped-for happiness. Neither will you or I. Getting what we want only proves it’s not what we really want.
Once he’s settled on his event spirituality, the Grinch makes his plan: dress up as Santa and steal the Whos blind. And he does, nabbing absolutely everything, including the last can of Who Hash. He’s a bad banana with a greasy black peel. (Take a moment to watch the brilliant song describing his despicable character.) The three words that best describe him: stink, stank, stunk.
But just as he’s about to complete his victory, the Grinch discovers that the Whos don’t live out of the same story that he’s been living from. Theirs is not a story of isolation and revenge.
The Whos love their toys and enjoy them thoroughly, but they’re fine without them because they live “heart to heart and hand in hand.” They are not materialistic consumers, defined by what they have and don’t have. They can do without stuff just fine. But neither are they creation-rejecting gnostics who are all about souls and not about stuff. They thrill in their toys, in the goodness of creation. But they’ve found that Pauline happiness seen in Phil. 4:12 — “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Where the Grinch lives an isolated story, the Whos live a community story and it’s in their love for one another that they find their joy. The giving of gifts is an expression of that love, not a consumeristic desire for the things themselves. When the Grinch realizes this, he realizes that dropping their toys off of Mt. Crumpet won’t change Christmas for them at all.
And so, as he encounters their story, his old story is lost and he adopts their story in its place. His two-sizes-too-small heart grows three sizes in process. And instead of being a taker, he becomes a giver himself.
This is evangelism at its best. When those who live a smaller story encounter the Jesus story as it is lived out in community, there becomes a moment of choice: Do they continue in their smaller story or do they change stories, adopting the newer, bigger story they’ve seen played out in front of them? It’s not exactly wordless evangelism. Rather, it’s embodied evangelism.
And so the Grinch is converted, wholeheartedly taking on a new identity to match his new story. And the Whos are just as wholehearted in their adoption of the transformed Grinch.
Not only do the Whos invite him to participate in their community feast, they offer him the prime seat, carving the roast beast. And like Christian worship at its best, they not only sing together, but they share in a communal meal together where each one serves everyone else.
The story finishes with a beautiful and very biblical image at the end, mirroring the marriage supper of the Lamb that concludes history, a feast at which God himself is our host and we live “heart to heart and hand in hand.”
What a wonderful expression of the gospel! Yes, it’s incomplete, lacking a Christ-like figure, but the movement from isolated bitterness to joyful community is the heart of the biblical narrative.
While we stand
Heart to heart
And hand in hand
Fah who for-aze
Dah who dor-aze