Saturday, 29 December 2012

Christmas with the Grinch



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,

            Christmas seems to always include a Grinch. There is always someone who just doesn't get caught up in the season. The decorations are offensive to their eyes. The music annoys them. They feel busier than they want to be. There are more people in the stores. There is no parking. The streets are slippery.  And, they are resentful at the social pressure to conform to the season.  In response to "Merry Christmas" inwardly they "Bah Humbug".
            Of course some of us have good reasons to not be in the Christmas spirit. For some of you Christmas brings with it an empty chair where a loved one sat. That's not really Grinchiness though. Grinchiness is really about the belief that Christmas is a sham.             
            In the Bible we meet Grinches too. No doubt Mary faced many Grinches as her belly grew and she was not yet married. Grinches are not likely to believe stories about angels and a miraculous pregnancy coming from a teenage girl. Likely Grinches looked down on Joseph who accepted a pregnant Mary as his future wife.  The Roman officials who forced a man and his pregnant wife to travel 155km on foot to complete a census were definitely Grinches. Perhaps the couple faced Grinches as they sought a place to stay in Bethlehem after such a long journey. The Grinchy King Herod learned from the visiting Wise Men that a child had been born who would become the king of the Jews. Not wanting to hand over his throne to a better king, the paranoid Herod took action to kill the child- the expected Messiah.   
            We have our own inner Grinches as well. Our inner Grinches tell us the whole Nativity story is just wishful thinking and fairy tales. Our inner Grinches have a hard time believing that this story (or something like it) happened in history. Our inner Grinches wonder if God even exists, and believing that God somehow became human is just a step too far. Our inner Grinches wonder how we can possibly be expected to believe this stuff.
            The Grinch thinks that if all the presents and sparkly decorations were taken away that Christmas would be shown for the fraud that it is. If the shiny wrapping paper was taken off and the elaborate bow was removed all that would be found is an empty box.           In Dr. Seuss' tale, the Grinch does just that. He dresses like Santa and sneaks into the Whos houses and steals their presents. He takes away the decorations. He takes away the food for the feast. He even takes away their Christmas trees. "On their walls he left nothing but hooks and some wire. And the one speck of food/ that he left in the house/ was a crumb that was even too small for a mouse." The Grinch expects a wail to arise from the town as the Whos wake up and realize that their Christmas has been stolen. He expects that they will feel an emptiness that matches his own inner emptiness.  
            The Grinches think that if all the presents and Christmas trees and twinkling lights were taken away, we would be left with a cold empty reality. The Grinches think that if all the sparkling lights and decorations were taken away we wouldn't really have anything left to celebrate. ... And that is a challenge to us. If it was all taken away from us, would we have anything left to celebrate?
            When the Grinch finished his night and had stolen everything he could from the Who's houses in Who-ville he waited outside of town to hear the fruit of his labour.  The Whos  are put to the test. Is Christmas all about presents?- as the Grinch assumes. ... The Grinch listens in anticipation...  and then he hears something, ... "But the sound wasn't sad!/ Why, this sound sounded merry!/ It couldn't be so!/ But it WAS merry! Very! ... 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!/ IT CAME!/ Somehow or other, it came just the same!"
            The Grinch believed that the decorations were not really decorating anything. ... The wrapping paper and bow, however, were not decorating an empty box. There was something inside. There was something to sing about. When all the decorations and food and presents were taken away there was still something to celebrate. The Grinch found the Whos singing. Inside that box that the Grinch thought was empty was a person and a story. 
            Inside the box was the story of Jesus' birth. Over 2000 years ago a baby was born. In some ways he was a very ordinary baby. He was human. He dirtied his diapers. He cried. He was fed. He needed protection. He needed the warmth and love of his parents. He wasn't even a very special human, by some standards. He was born where there was no room for him. He was born where there was no crib, so he was laid in a feeding trough for animals. He was not rich. He was not born in a palace. His parents weren't famous.
            The baby was a very real and ordinary human being, but he was also a very extraordinary baby. Accompanying his birth there are stories of angels, and prophecies coming true. No matter who you are and what you believe you cannot deny that this child had a tremendous impact on the world. The very way we measure time points to his birth. We are in the two-thousand-and-eleventh year of our Lord- A.D.- Ano Dominae (in the Latin). Jesus' teachings and followers have impacted the world and changed it. So, yes, this child is also extraordinary. That is something you have to admit whether you are a follower of his or not.  
            Jesus was a mixture of the humble and low, and the lofty and sublime. His mother was an ordinary Jewish girl, but she was still a virgin when she became pregnant with him. He was laid in an animal's feeding trough, but had the blood of the ancient King David running through his veins. He was visited by rough and tumble shepherds, but his birth was announced by angels. He was both ordinary and extraordinary.  And even more paradoxical  in Jesus the human and the divine overlapped in some amazing and mysterious way.
            So why would the Whos sing over this? Why are we gathered here tonight? Why are we singing? ... There are plenty of stories about human beings reaching toward the divine. They think that if they go up the right mountain they might have the chance to see that higher and more glorious place- they might experience the divine.  They think, perhaps if they use the right prayer or meditation they might be able to achieve the experience of heavenly reality. If they weave the right spell, or if they are good enough, or think the right thoughts, then they might be able to have an experience of heaven.
            Christmas, however,  isn't about our reaching for God. Christmas is about the exact opposite. Christmas is about God reaching out to us. Christmas is about God coming to us as a baby. And miraculously, and mysteriously, to know this baby is to know God. Christmas isn't about us reaching out to God through special ceremonies, on special days, with special potions, or special meditations or prayers. Christmas isn't about our reaching at all. Christmas is about God's reaching out to us. Christmas is about God writing himself into the story of humanity. It is about God writing himself into our story. God did this freely as an act of love. God gave us himself- that is the ultimate Christmas gift. That is what is inside the box that the Grinch thought was empty. That is what is worth celebrating even when all the decorations have been taken away. That is what the Whos sing about.  
            And this amazing gift wasn't just given to kings (though it is for them as well). The angels announce that "a saviour has been born to you." It's not just that Jesus has been born. He has been born "to you", or "for you" and this is "good news of great joy that will be for all the people". He has been born for you.  This gift wasn't just meant to be boxed up and taken out once a year. This gift was given to ordinary shepherds during an ordinary work-night. Jesus is a gift for our very ordinary daily lives. He is a gift that makes our ordinary lives extra-ordinary. He invites us to enter into his life, to have a relationship with him, and in that way we become a part of His story which has no beginning and no ending. In His story it is not the Grinches with the most money who are the main actors. It is not the Grinches with the biggest bombs, or nicest cars, or most beautiful faces, or most friends on facebook who play the big parts. The big characters in His story can be played by: a baby in an animal's feeding trough, his simple parents, and shepherds. The big characters are ordinary people who were drawn into an extraordinary story. Their lives are infused with eternal meaning. And that is his invitation to us. That invitation is his Christmas gift to us.
            That is what the Whos were singing about. If all the presents are taken away- If all the decorations are stolen- If our Christmas goodies disappear- we still have a reason to sing. We still have a reason to celebrate. God has come to us.
            If we listen closely with the shepherds tonight we might hear the angels' song. As that song penetrates into our hearts and we get wrapped up in Jesus' life and story we will find that, no matter how ordinary we feel, our small hearts grow three sizes, and our lives are infused with meaning and power to transform the world. As our stories gets wrapped up in his we find ourselves invited into an eternal adventure.   

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