The Grinch Who Stole Christmas Readings: Jer. 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36 Advent 1/C
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA 11/29/15
I want to start by reading an excerpt from Dr. Seuss - How the Grinch Stole Christmas. “Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot…but the Grinch who lived just north of Who-ville did not! The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all, may have been that his heart was two sizes too small. But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes, he stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos. Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown, at the warm lighted windows below in their town. For he knew ever Who down in Who-ville beneath, was busy now hanging a mistletoe wreath. “And they’re hanging the stockings” he snarled with a sneer. “Tomorrow is Christmas, it is practically here!” Then he growled with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming, “I must find some way to stop Christmas from coming.””
We are all familiar with the war on Christmas or at least a perceived battle. Last year I received a letter from an acquaintance in Cupertino who was miffed with the City for changing the name of the publicly-displayed Christmas tree to holiday tree. I’ve heard and read about folks who rant against others for wishing them a “happy holiday” rather than a “merry Christmas.” Last month, there was a big kerfuffle when Starbuck’s Coffee issued solid red cups for the holiday season. In past years, Starbucks had imprinted a holiday image on its red cups like a pine tree, snowflakes, or frosty the snowman. But this year, it was just plain red with no holiday demarcation. For some, the naked red cups, unadorned with symbols like holly or snowflakes, was a strike against Christmas.
And while it is true that much of our culture has taken the Christ out of Christmas, Starbucks is not the culprit. Instead, what takes the Christ out of Christmas is our own confusion about the meaning of Christmas and trying to reconcile it with the winter holidays. The celebration of Christmas focuses on the good news in Christ, which can bring joy into our hearts. The winter holidays on the other hand, focus on putting up decorations, family gatherings, and exchanging gifts, which may make you temporarily happy and bright. While I love celebrating both Christmas and the winter holiday with all its trappings, I try not to confuse the two. Today I would like to name three grinches who threaten to steal the joy of Christmas. They are despair, an immature faith based on the past, and high expectations for a holly, jolly Christmas.
If you haven’t noticed, the shopping malls have been displaying Christmas decoration and playing carols since Halloween. Santa Claus has already visited downtown Jackson amidst the cheers of families and the eating of candy canes by children. People have already spent lots of money on presents, rushing to get the door buster specials on Black Friday or the cyber-discounts on Amazon.com. But if any of these folks come to church on Advent 1 expecting to find what the culture offers, they will be sorely disappointed.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. We have already lit the Advent wreath, processed in with the Advent hymn ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’, and sung the song ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord.’ Our liturgical colors have changed to blue, the lectionary has switched to the gospel according to Luke, and we have begun Year C of the Church’s new year. There is no Santa Claus, Christmas carols, or a smiling young Mary cooing a baby. You will not find a decorated tree, frosty the snowman, or a red cup with snowflakes. Instead you will hear about themes of anticipation, hope, repentance, the second coming of Christ, and a new world order where the poor and the oppressed will be lifted up and peace & justice will ultimately reign.
The season of Advent is that time of year when we are invited to name those places in our lives and society that are at odds with the divine vision of justice and righteousness. What do you long for and what are you missing? While there still remains a wide gap between what is promised and what our current reality tells us, we continue to hope and work toward the coming of Christ in all its fullness as we sing: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the son of God appear.”
In our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, we hear the words: “The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Justice and righteousness are at the core of the Christmas promise. These words were said to a people in exile some 2600 years ago when the Babylonians conquered Israel, destroyed their cities, and exiled their leaders. Jeremiah tries to convince the survivors that what they are experiencing now is not what God has in mind for the future. Their world is distorted and not functioning as it was meant to be.
Jeremiah promises that God is at work redeeming and transforming creation. Today however, many folks have lost their faith in God and have become despairing with little hope for a new world. Despair is the first Grinch that can and does steal Christmas. We see it in the eyes of the weary, the depressed, the hurting, the apathetic, and the frightened. I think one of the reasons why so many people drink, or keep busy, or engage in frantic merry making is because they are trying to keep despair at bay. Instead of placing their hope in God, they rely on temporary gratification to soothe the pain.
The season of Advent is an opportunity to take the time to strengthen our hope. Hope is the opposite of despair. Hope is believing that the future contains new possibilities that are not evident in the present. Hope is trusting that in the fullness of time, the Kingdom of God will triumph. Jesus said: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly. (Luke 21) And so with a voice of hope and anticipation, the faithful sing: “O Come, O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, free them from Satan’s tyranny, that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o’er the grave. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel.”
The second Grinch that can steal Christmas is an immature practice of our faith, a faith stuck in the past. The celebration of Christmas today needs to include more than a sentimental remembrance of a baby born in a manger some 2000 years ago. It’s time to leave Bethlehem and get more involved with our world. Today’s gospel speaks of the second coming of Christ, a time when the world order is shaken up. This will be a time when nations no longer lift up sword against nations; a time when the oldest of enemies become the best of friends; when the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid, and a little child shall lead them. It will be a time when humanity is at one, where there are no borders to protect or self-interests to fight for; when the underlying principle of economic development is the golden rule rather than personal profit; when CEOs manage their companies for the glory of God and for the good of the public welfare rather than simply to please stock holders. (Is. 61, Lk.2) The days are surely coming says the Lord when healing and compassion will become the dominant themes such that the blind see, the lame walk, the poor are fed, the oppressed are liberated, and all people are given the opportunity to live a full life. (Is. 35, Is. 65, Mt. 11)
So if you think there is a war on Christmas because Starbucks is selling coffee in plain red cups without snowflakes or because someone prefers to call an evergreen tree a “holiday tree,” then think again. The real war on Christmas looks like hunger, poverty, bigotry, terrorism, war, and homeless refugees. It is time for us to put the baby Jesus back into his cradle and focus our Christmas devotions with the desire to put on the mind of Christ. God is longing for us to mature in our faith so we can participate in the liberation of this world by striving for justice, peace, and the dignity of every human being. “O Come, O Come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily. To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel.”
Finally, the third Grinch that can steal Christmas are those high expectations fueled by the media, engendering a nostalgia for a time that never was. There is nothing wrong with wanting a holiday get-together with a loving family, sitting around the Christmas tree exchanging gifts and sharing mementos of love. There is something romantic about chestnuts roasting on an open fire with Jack Frost nipping at your nose. But if this is all there is to your Christmas celebration, you may end up very disappointed when your expectations go unmet. Disappointment is the third Grinch that can rob you of your joy at Christmas. Don’t let that happen again this year.
“The days are surely coming says the Lord…when I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Justice and righteousness is the promise of Christmas future. That is what we can hope for. That is what we are waiting for as we prepare the way of the Lord during this season of Advent. And so as we anticipate the second coming of Christ in all its glory, we will continue to sing: “O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to thee, O Israel.”