And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. ‘How could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags!’
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’
‘Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.’
So ends the original (and only, in my home) version of the beloved Christmas classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
The Grinch didn’t actually steal Christmas, of course. He never could have, and that’s kind of the point. No one can stop Christmas from coming. Christmas can’t be stolen.
But you can have the spirit of the holiday stolen from you. That is, there are ways to ruin the celebration of the holiday both for yourself and for others. In fact, there are two Grinch-like perspectives that threaten to “steal Christmas” still.
Each Christmas is a struggle to curb our incessant craving for more.
OG: The Original Grinch
The original ‘Grinch’ I have in mind is well known—and for good reason. This sin has longed plagued humanity, and it goes by many names: covetousness, materialism, consumerism, greed. It is the worship of stuff, the elevation of gift above the Giver. In many ways this was the original sin of humanity in the garden, and it is certainly with us still (Romans 1:20, 25).
So watch out! For the routine exchanging of gifts at Christmastime carries a potentially soul-destroying power. There is nothing wrong with having stuff, as the old saying goes, so long as your stuff doesn’t ‘have you.’ Could you rejoice with the Whos down in Whoville, if for some reason you awoke to no gifts, no decorations, and no feast of roast beast?
Now money and the stuff we can buy with it isn’t the “root of all evil,” as is so often misquoted. But the love of money is (1 Timothy 6:10). It lures people away from the grace of God into a soul-crushing craving for more things, a hunger for that which can never satisfy.
This ‘Grinch’ will not go away until the possibility of loving gifts more than the Giver is forever removed at the return of Jesus. In the meantime, then, each Christmas is a struggle to curb our incessant craving for more, to be content with what is given, and to recognize with gratitude the love and sacrifice of those who have given to us.
Christmas is about the invisible made visible, made tangible, made available for everyone.
The New Grinch on the Block
For years we have heard Dr. Seuss’s rhyme, “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!” And we got the message—only, it turns out to be the wrong one. “Christmas is not about stuff,” many now exclaim. “It’s not about decorations or food or presents.”
This sentiment seems to grow more common each year. It’s apparent in trends like minimalism. It makes an annual appearance in the sneers of those who publicly voice their boycott of Black Friday shopping. I even have friends who give no gifts to their children each year for fear of spoiling them.
Those concerns contain a kernel of truth, but beneath them all is another ‘Grinch’ almost as old as idolatrous greed that goes by many names: self-righteousness, religious asceticism, Gnosticism, dualism. You may not have heard those labels before, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. On the contrary, they may be more so! For if you only hear warnings about a ditch on one side of the road, there is a dreadful chance that is because you’re already in the ditch on the other side.
So, yes, Christmas means “a little bit more” than stuff (contrary to the original Grinch), but Christmas does not mean less than physical things (contrary to the new Grinch). After all, the ultimate gift from God is one that had to became physical in order to be received: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Thus, Christmas is the good news that love was not merely a feeling in God’s heart but a baby in a manger and a man on a cross. Christmas is about the invisible made visible, made tangible, made available for everyone. If anything, Christmas is the holiday most about physical things!
Resisting Both Grinches
We know how to sin with stuff: We overindulge. We run up our credit cards. We buy things hoping they’ll bring lasting happiness, only to feel emptier than boxes the day after Christmas. The original ‘Grinch’ is still a threat, and we need to resist him. But the way to do so is not by getting in bed with the new ‘Grinch’ in town.
In other words, we are just as capable of sinning without stuff, too. We sin by shunning the stuff of God’s world and degrading the existence he gave us. We act as if the physical is bad or perhaps unnecessary, while The True Spirit of Christmas® is some ethereal, intangible thing. But the resurrected body of Jesus begs to differ. The whole world is being redeemed, the physical along with the spiritual. Jesus is Lord of both.
So get out your ribbons. Get out your tags. Get out your packages, boxes, and bags. Make fudge and hang wreaths. Drink stronger eggnog. Shop with gratitude and give gifts with joy. Decorate your home and put up a tree. Sing Christmas songs. And make even more fudge.
Because the best way to celebrate the incarnate love of God is not by ignoring the physical life of Jesus, but by giving and receiving with hearts full of gratitude as we enjoy our gifts to the honor of the One who ultimately gave them all (James 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:17).