The Grinch who Tried to Steal Christmas
One of the best known Christmas stories of our time is one Dr. Seuss wrote – “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The plot revolves around two characters, the Grinch and Cindy Lu Who. The Grinch is a miserable green creature who hates Christmas and all its festivities. He and his emotionally abused dog, Max, live in a mountaintop cave, proudly insulated against the frivolity of those who exist down in Whoville. Cindy Lu, an innocent (some would say naive) little girl, lives in the valley with her perfect Who family. She, unlike the Grinch, loves Christmas and each small ornament that comes with it.
Whoville and its outlandishly adorned characters do not exist. There is no green creature called the “Grinch” or the “Gr... Gr... Grrriinch!” as Cindy Lu would say it. We understand that. But there are people who believe, think and behave like the Grinch. And people who are hurting like the Grinch.
These Grinches don’t necessarily live in unreachable places. They may occupy the next cubicle. They may be your mail carrier or your Uber driver. A family member on the other side of the table, the guy sitting in Santa’s seat at the mall, or the frazzled clerk on the other side of the register – these could all have a wounded monster inside.
It would be easy to identify them if green fur covered their bodies, but that isn’t the way with today’s Grinches. They are much more subtle. They wear clothes similar to yours. They have a spouse, two kids, and a dog. Christmas presents are under their tree.
So if there is so much similarity between a Grinch and you, how do you know one when you meet one? How do you know if you are one?
Matthew’s Gospel tells the true account of the first Grinch, King Herod. Herod didn’t try to end Christmas; he tried to prevent it from ever coming by destroying the One Christmas is about – Jesus. By examining Herod’s reaction to the Christ, we can learn five characteristics every Grinch possesses.
You Know You’re A Grinch If You Get Upset When Others Invade Your Territory (Matthew 2:1-6)
Dr. Seuss introduced the Grinch standing at the ledge outside his cave overlooking the village of the Who’s. He’s there with his arms crossed, his head slightly tilted to one side, a scowl on his face, and his foot tapping on the snow-covered ground. It’s obvious he is irritated.
He hears music from the village below. The inhabitants of Whoville were blowing their horns, and whistling their whistles, and singing their songs. What a cacophony! No matter how hard he tried, he could not shut it out. He had moved to that mountain cave to escape them, and now their ruckus had invaded his home.
If King Herod had access to the animated story, he would have empathized with the Grinch’s plight. Rome’s emperor placed Herod in charge of the Jewish territory, and the Roman Senate bestowed the title “King of the Jews.” Judea was his land to rule.
Though Herod built great works for the Jews including a beautiful new temple, the people still resented his rule over them. It was not his rightful place. The Jews transferred their hatred of Rome as the occupying enemy onto Herod.
Herod knew the people’s animosity toward him, and he knew they would use any opportunity to overpower his rule. He feared he would lose control at any time. This paranoia led him to kill anyone, including many members of his family, whom he considered a threat to the throne.
Now, imagine Herod’s reaction when three ambassadors from the East entered his court and said these words: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matt. 2:2)
King of the Jews? That was Herod’s title! How dare an impostor claim that title for himself!
“Disturbed.” “Alarmed.” “Troubled.” “Agitated.” “Upset.” That’s how various Bible translations describe Herod’s reaction to the wise men’s words (Matthew 2:3). His insides were contorted. Someone had invaded his territory and was threatening to take what he believed rightfully belonged to him.
Jesus habitually trespasses into areas people would rather He not go. He calls us, His messengers to do the same. We should not be surprised when people react with anxiety - even animosity - to our transgression over their self-imposed boundaries.
Before Jesus’ return and the Antichrist’s revealing, the Watchman’s role is to awaken people to the danger they are in (Ephesians 5:14-16). No one likes being startled from their slumber. Comfort is the number one commodity in the marketplace. When the Antichrist offers peace and safety and seems to deliver on his promise, he will have an immediate devoted following in the midst of a chaotic world (1 Thess. 5:3). People want to believe they are secure even if their perception is an illusion.
Until Jesus does return, you as a Christian want Him to supply abundant joy, peace, and love. But there are areas of your life over which you have posted “No Trespassing” signs. You haven’t given God the right to walk freely into your finances. You haven’t told Him He can have those bitter feelings you tightly grasp toward someone who hurt you. He’s not allowed to govern your entertainment, your relationship with your wife, or how you raise your kids. Those have signs: Off Limits, or No Trespassing.
If Jesus or one of His messengers starts to walk into a sensitive realm, suddenly the defenses go up. You become irritated: “I’m the king of my living room! I say what goes on here!” If Jesus is not King of all, then He is not king at all. He cannot give you what you seek because you will not relinquish what is stifling His work.
Neither the Grinch nor Herod would accept an intrusion into their territory, and neither was willing to surrender. Both developed a plan. That brings us to the second way you can identify a Grinch.
You Know You’re A Grinch If You Pretend To Be Something You’re Not (Matthew 2:7-8)
The Grinch knew the people down in Whoville feared and hated him. If he went there as himself, people would run or attack. There would be no permanent positive outcome. As soon as he was gone, they would return to their noise-making. But there was someone else whom the citizens admired as much as they despised the Grinch. It was Santa Claus.
Then a light came on, and that giant ear-to-ear devilish smile traversed the Grinch’s green face. Quickly, he found some discarded red fabric. He cut out the shape of a Santa suit, and sewed it together, complete with puffy white ruffles; he strapped a pair of antlers on his dog. Now he was ready to go down to Whoville posing as Santa.
Rather than bring joy, the Grinch planned to steal every present, every decoration, every tree, and even every scrap of cheese. The citizens refused to accept him as he was. Fine. He would pretend to be something he was not.
Herod had a similar plan. He quickly called together the chief priests and those who knew the Bible well to find out where this new king was to be born. Herod was not willing to accept Jesus’ rule over his life, but at least he knew to go to the Bible to discover information about Jesus. The prophecies stated the King the Magi sought would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
After learning the location of the interloper, Herod called the wise men back. He told them these words: “Go, and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.” (Matthew 2:8) Herod had no intention to worship Jesus; the wise men would not know until it was too late. Herod had a plan to eliminate Jesus.
Pretending is not necessarily sinful. Children, with their super-charged imaginations, are expert pretenders. Through their innocent play, they learn the skills they will need in adulthood, including how to interrelate and play a role. So long as it is play, and so long as everyone knows what is happening, pretending can be good. But when it becomes deception for manipulation, it indicates that you are a Grinch. And grinching can be dangerous.
The Bible prophesies that pretenders will multiply in the church during the latter days. Pastors will be “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Acts 20:29). People who once filled the churches will fade away showing that their faith was only a sham (Matt. 24:12). Many of those who continue attending will do so only to find entertainment (2 Timothy 4:3-4). True faith will be hard to find (Luke 18:8).
The greatest of all pretenders will manifest himself in the last of the Last Days. He will not masquerade as Santa, but like the one before whom the gift bringers bowed. No one on earth knows his name, but his title is the Antichrist. Through cunning and deceit, he gains the world’s trust and the power to rule. He reveals his true nature only when it is too late for most of the world’s population.
We do not have to wait until the end of the world to witness great acting performances. There is a dramatic production taking place just inside the church doors this Sunday. It begins when a friendly greeter in the foyer asks the question, “How are you doing today?”
Most people don’t wear their “Sunday best” to church anymore. But they still put on a facade that covers each emotional scar or character flaw - anything that could potentially frighten, shock, or embarrass. “Don’t let them see you for who you are. They will run from you and laugh at you if you let them come too close.”
Such is the lie the Deceiver successfully foists on those who long for healing. His lies perpetually prevent them from finding healing because they will not reveal what needs cleansing.
There is an answer. Cindy Lu Who knew it. It’s called unconditional love. The Santa suit didn’t fool her, and the Grinch’s true nature didn’t cause her to recoil. Her smile, acceptance, and brash love provided the first glimmer of hope for the Grinch. It created the smallest of cracks in his granite exterior.
Revealing the green tint beneath the Santa suit may be unsettling, but it will provide an opportunity to see that there are people who will love us just the way we are.
The Grinch and Herod pretended to be something they were not to secure what did not belong to them. Without pretense, the truth would have come out, and these fakers would have faced their weaknesses. But that would have been the best thing for them, for maybe then, they could embrace the joy others around them were experiencing. That brings us to the third Grinch indicator.
You Know You’re A Grinch If You Can’t Join Others In Their Joy (Matthew 2:9-15)
With his Santa suit on, the Grinch and his dog, Max, raced down the mountain into Whoville. They skulked from house to house retrieving all the gifts the true Santa had provided for each little boy and girl. The green monster left each home empty.
Even as small and hard as his heart was, the Grinch had to notice the beauty around him. It must have brought back memories of the few good Christmases he experienced while he lived in Whoville – the presents, the delicious roast beast, and the songs. But it didn’t matter.
Grinches do not partake of other’s joy - that would make them vulnerable. It would require forgiving those who inflicted pain. It just wasn’t worth it. So instead of joy, he held onto his bitterness. He headed up the chimney with all the Who toys, packed them onto his sled and carried them to the highest peak of the mountain. Joy encircled him like a Christmas wreath, but instead of filling him with laughter, it made him gag in disgust.
Joy surrounded Herod also, and he could have joined in the celebration, but he refused. The cost was too great.
When the wise men received Herod’s message about where the Christ would be born, they quickly headed off toward Bethlehem. Imagine what must have been going through their minds. For two years, they had been following the star wondering where it would finally come to rest. Now they had their answer.
“The star...went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. … they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:9-10)
The star halted. The wise men’s quest was complete! They were overjoyed! They would soon meet the King of the Jews, the King of Kings, their king.
They approached the house, and they met Mary and Joseph. And then they saw Jesus. What a moment of joy! As usually happens when joy fills a place, people present gifts. You know what they were – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There was joy all around and plenty enough to spare.
Herod didn’t get to experience that delight. He chose to keep his distance. Jerusalem, where Herod dwelt, was only two miles away. Herod was so close to finding the joy his troubled soul needed. But he chose to ignore the opportunity. He sent someone else rather than go and run the risk of Jesus’ arrival changing him.
Just as Jesus’ first trip to earth brought delight to the wise men, so the hope of His return brings exhilaration to Christians today. There was much to depress in Jesus’ time. There is more now. But Jesus always brings reason to celebrate. He provides light from the darkness, hope from despair, and joy out of sorrow.
Some do not understand the Christian’s excitement. The majority never will. Our task is to show them what the anticipation of Jesus’ return means to us. We want them to experience what we already know. Jesus brings joy!
Have you ever questioned why the Grinch is green? Perhaps because green is the color of envy. Some people are annoyed when others are happy. It riles them to hear laughter.
The reason for their reaction is because they miss jubilation in their own lives. They hate to see two people madly in love because their own marriage failed. A couple delighting in a baby disgusts them because they were never able to have children, or because their child died in an accident … at Christmas time.
So rather than smile, they make some wanton comment like, “I’ll give that couple five years. Then, we’ll see how ‘lovey-dovey’ they are.” Or, “Just wait until that baby is a teenager. He’ll break your heart.” And you wonder, “Where in the world did that come from?”
The Grinch and Herod were incredibly close to joy but unwilling to join in. Instead, they decided to undermine its source. All along, the Grinch hated his existence and wanted so badly to be a part of the Who’s joy, but he could not. Someone had wounded him too deeply. He could not release his anger. As long as he clutched tightly to his anger, he had no way to grab hold of anything else.
The Bible tells us to echo the joy of those who rejoice (Romans 12:15), but Grinches cannot. They lost the power to celebrate long ago, so they attempt to stifle pleasure for others. In the process, they miss opportunities they have to find joy for themselves. That brings us to the fourth sign of life as a Grinch.
You Know You’re A Grinch If You Get Infuriated When Your Plans Don’t Work Out (Matthew 2:16)
God knew how Herod would react to Jesus’ birth and the defiance of the wise men. So the Father first warned the wise men to go home a different way (Matt. 2:12), and then He told Joseph to get Mary and Jesus out of the city (Matt. 2:13-14). This would prevent Herod’s plot from succeeding.
The Bible doesn’t communicate Herod’s original scheme. Perhaps it was to hear from the wise men the exact location of the prophesied King so that he could kill that one baby and His family. To insure their cooperation, Herod could have had the wise men followed on their journey to Bethlehem, but he didn’t. Maybe he was planning to establish a relationship with these Magi so that he could set up trade routes to the East. Whatever Herod’s original plan, it didn’t match with God’s.
Matthew 2:16 tells us, Herod was furious when he learned of the wise men’s treachery! In his anger, Herod devised a new plan. He could still make sure this threat to his throne was destroyed. Herod had killed so many of his own family members to maintain his power; it was easy to destroy the sons of total strangers. He ordered his soldiers to enter each home in Bethlehem and the surrounding area, find every boy that was two years old and under, and murder them.
Why is it that children are often the ones who suffer most when adults are unwilling to follow God’s plan for their lives? Too many children are going to ruin their lives because they aren’t allowed the privilege of being taught God’s Word. They don’t even have the option of picking God’s pathway.
Great judgment is coming. Parents will stand before God and answer to Him for why they refused good spiritual direction for their children. Some of them will answer: “Well, I tried God’s way when I was younger, but He didn’t do things the way that I wanted. So I turned my back on Him. I got mad and walked out.” That’s what a Grinch does. That’s what an immature child does!
God isn’t obligated to follow our plan. We are obligated to follow His!
The Grinch had a plan. He placed all he had gathered from Whoville on his sled and then whipped little Max into pulling that overloaded sleigh to the highest cliff of the mountain. From there, one push would send everything crashing on the rocks below. But his plan didn’t quite work out the way he thought either.
You Know You’re A Grinch If Your Heart Has Never Been Changed (Matthew 2:17-18)
By the time Max reached the top of the mountain with the sleigh, it was Christmas morning. The Grinch knew that Cindy Lu and all of Whoville would be waking up soon. They would rush to their who trees to open their who presents. But all they would find would be a few pieces of torn Who wrapping paper, a Who hook or two that Who ornaments once hung on and maybe a burnt out Who bulb. The Grinch, overly pleased with himself, paused to listen to what was happening down in Whoville.
He expected to hear the sound of crying. All their presents and decorations were gone. So was their Who feast. These were what Christmas was about, the source of their joy … or so the Grinch thought.
To his surprise, instead of the sound of Who weeping, he heard the sound of Who harmony. They sang the same Who song he heard when the Who tree once stood tall in the village square. Nothing had changed. How could this be?
Suddenly, the sleigh began to slip over the edge. The Grinch reached out to grab it. He no longer sought its destruction. He didn’t know why.
Within himself, he didn’t have the ability to stop the sleigh from falling. But then something incredible happened. His two-sizes-too-small heart miraculously grew four sizes enabling him to save the sleigh and hoist it over his head. A genuine heartfelt smile replaced the sly ear-to-ear smirk that had marked his face.
And then he understood. The joy of Christmas comes not from the presents, the decorations, the food or any other outside source. It comes from an internal supply - a heart full of love that sees greater value in relationships than in things.
We know how the story ended for Dr. Seuss’ Grinch. He descended his mountain once again, but this time, he joined the Who’s in their joy, carving the roast beast himself. He became a citizen of Whoville. He didn’t need to pretend anymore. All of that happened because of his heart transformation. He wasn’t a Grinch anymore. He was a Who. That’s where the similarity between the two stories ends.
Unlike the Grinch, Herod awoke that Christmas morning to what he expected – the sound of weeping. Mothers wept, not because their children lost their presents, but because their children were dead (Matt. 2:18). Herod never experienced a heart change. The Bible tells us that he died (Matt. 2:19), and history tells us that it was only about a year later. This was his chance. He missed it. He remained a Grinch forever.
Thirty years later, adult Jesus stood before another Herod (Luke 23:6-11). This was the son of the first Herod; the one of Jesus’ childhood. He too was incredibly close to the One who could have provided joy and peace for him, but he too turned out to be a Grinch. This Herod had Jesus beaten and mocked and then returned Him to Pilate to have Him crucified.
This second Herod completed the plan his father originated – the death of the King of the Jews – which was exactly the title that Pilate placed over Jesus’ head there on the cross (Matt. 27:37).
This Herod, like his father, received no joy from Jesus’ presence. He would not allow Jesus to change his heart. He too remained a Grinch to the day of his grotesque death (Acts 12:22-23).
Herod is beyond help. The Grinch parable ended in a gratifying way. Your story is still unfolding. Has Jesus changed your heart? The Grinch’s transformation happened due to what he heard (Rom. 10:17). Listen to this promise of God.
“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put My Spirit in you so that you will follow My decrees and be careful to obey My regulations.” (Ezek. 36:26-27)
You can’t change your own heart, but God offers to do it for you. The blood Jesus shed on the cross once flowed through His heart. It can remove your sin and your bitterness. His blood can also heal your wounds (1 Peter 2:24).
A heart God has enlarged will have an increased capacity to understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14). Activities and ideas that once brought a sneer to the face become worthy of investigation. What you formerly tried to destroy or at least avoid takes on a far greater attraction than your old way of life alone in a cave.
Let God heal your heart today.
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