Disconnecting the Light Part II: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’

Posting here last Monday, I shared how my wife and I look forward to the holiday season for many reasons, one of them being that we legitimately get to break out our collection of Christmas movie DVDs, dust them off and enjoy them all over again with our kids, ages 9 through 25. These movies are a much-anticipated “background” to the holiday madness; oftentimes we are too busy talking or working in the kitchen to really “watch” the films from start to finish.

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasBut make no mistake about it…background noise or no, these films absolutely must be played in our home at least a few times each between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So, in addition to Elf, another annual favorite is getting to watch comedian Jim Carrey ham it up as the Grinch in director Ron Howard’s visually-stunning 2000 film, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. As you might expect, I love this film mostly for the horrible things Carrey’s character says and does to the hapless citizens of Whoville – most especially the smarmy, unctuous Mayor Augustus Maywho, his lifelong nemesis.

Again, our family absolutely loves this film and, even though it’s 15 years old, I am still amazed at the sets, costumes, make-up and plain old bizarreness that make up the city of Whoville and its inhabitants. The humor has a nice cutting edge to it, too, with just the right amount of meanness stirred in to keep things interesting.

Try as I might, though, I just can’t help but take silent notice every time I watch these films as to when exactly the filmmakers will get around to offering up a bowl full of schmaltz that is supposed to helpfully explain to us idiot viewers what the Christmas season is “really all about.” Since one of the main characters, Cindy Lou Who, spends most of her time investigating the meaning of the holiday and why the Grinch has been excluded, it would have been pretty-much impossible for the filmmakers to opt out of attempting at least some sort of explanation.

Like most of their ilk, though, they manage to come up with something that serves as a poorly-trained stunt-double for the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the switcheroo comes just before the end, when Cindy’s father Lou Lou Who affirms that Christmas is not about the toys, the food, the Holiday-Meister Chair of Cheer or any of the other things that occupy most of Whoville’s time, talent and treasure in the days leading up to The Big Moment:

Lou Lou Who with CindyLou Lou Who:
I’m glad he took our presents! You can’t hurt Christmas, Mr. Mayor, because it isn’t about the…the gifts, or the contest, or the fancy lights. That’s what Cindy’s been trying to tell everyone…and me. I don’t need anything more for Christmas than this right here: my family.

Probably one of the greatest honors of my life has been to serve alongside my wife and a handful of dedicated volunteers in The Crossing‘s separation and divorce recovery ministry. The “visible” component of this ministry is that our church has been offering the DivorceCare program steadily since 2009; in that capacity, our team has had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know – really know – hundreds of individuals as they work their way through crisis. The less-visible component of this ministry would be the hundreds (thousands, maybe?) of emails, phone calls, lunches, coffee breaks, social gatherings and other informal meetings that affirm for others that they are loved, cared for and, yes, very much wanted as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Probably the single-greatest “contribution” that anyone makes to this ministry is a simple willingness to be “exposed” as a fellow sufferer. Every single volunteer in the ministry has personally lived through the pain, alienation, confusion and relentless sorrow that accompany the break-up of a marriage. All of us know exactly what it is like, for example, to be living in a crappy apartment in the low-rent part of town while all of “your” Christmas decorations, lights and so forth are already being used across town in another home…perhaps even in someone else’s home.

So, whether I care to or not, I think about actual people I know every single time I hear Lou Lou Who recite his line about “family” being the true meaning of Christmas. How that sentiment must sting horribly the heart of those who no longer have the luxury of being allowed to spend Christmas with their family, or whose Christmas celebrations going forward will forever be marred by the memory of “what used to be.” If family represents the true meaning of Christmas, then obviously the recently-separated or divorced person has every right to wonder if they really are living outside of God’s plan for their lives. That’s the lie that the enemy of their souls keeps taunting them with, at any rate.

Which is why I find myself indebted, Christmas after Christmas, to Paul Tripp for helping me to “rebrand” Christmas as The Sufferer’s Holiday:

“This pain isn’t a sign that He’s turned His back on me. This pain is a sign that I still live in a broken world…but God’s with me. And all of that just says to me that I wasn’t hard-wired to live this life by myself. I was created for dependency, primarily dependency upon God. And so, I think this is real comforting: The person in pain and the person who’s presently not in pain, are not different people. They’re exactly the same. They’re equally dependent on God for their life. It’s just that one is more aware of it now than the other is…If this world were not filled as it is with pain, there would not be any need for a Savior, or for Christmas.”

The GrinchSo…do I love watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas every year? 100%. Do I understand that large-budget films such as this are not being produced as a means of bringing others to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior? Of course. Is there every good reason under the sun to run out and add How the Grinch Stole Christmas to your film collection? Absolutely, even all these years later. (Heck, maybe buy two copies in case one gets lost or broken.)

But alongside all these accolades, is there every reason to pay close attention to the not-very-subtle manner in which the meaning of Christmas is slowly being whitewashed into something “safe and bankable,” with the broadest-possible appeal? I think so.

Even adults, especially those walking through one of the tougher seasons of life, have to be diligent to remind ourselves that it’s precisely because the world is so seriously screwed-up that the message of Christmas is such powerful Good News, assuming we will accept it for what it truly is.

With all due respect to Lou Lou Who, the woman raising three small kids by herself in a one-bedroom apartment needs the true meaning of Christmas, too.

The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Luke 2:1-14
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

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