A Brick in the Valley

The Grinch Sold Out
November 28, 2007, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Christmas

 An editor once told me that this article was a little nasty.  I guess any time you side with the Grinch (as he properly was at the beginning of the story) you could be accused of being mean.  But, this is my thesis and I am sticking to it.  The Grinch sold out.

Let me just say it up front.  I don’t like how Dr. Seuss ended the thing.  As far as I am concerned, the Grinch sold out.  He should have kept the presents, stayed in his cave and eaten the Who-pudding, and the rare Who-roast-beast. 

You know the story.  The Grinch despised Christmas.  The Whoville Christmas extravaganza fueled his hatred on an annual basis.  The Who’s ate like lumberjacks and played games like “zoozinta-car-kaye: a roller skate kind of lacrosse and croquet.”  The Grinch hated the whole mess. 

Most maddening to the Grinch, the Who’s would stand in a big circle, hold hands, and sing some song.  Has anyone ever understood the words to that song, other than “welcome, Christmas, Christmas day”?  Is it Latin?

So the Grinch decided to blow up Who Christmas by stealing their stuff: he went to the “Who ice-box and stole the Who feast.  He took the Who pudding.  He even took the roast beast.”  Just admit that you laughed at the part when the Grinch stole the candy canes from the children lying in bed: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.” 

So far, so good.

Then it gets tough to swallow.  From here out, Dr. Seuss requires us to believe that the Who’s celebrated anyway, despite the Grinch’s larceny.  They stood in a circle and sang.  And, because the Who’s went on with Christmas even though the Grinch (and his tormented dog Max) drug off their stuff, the Grinch felt bad about it and returned the presents.  It is Dr. Seuss’s theology of redemption.  The Grinch became a Who-ite.  “He brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!  And he… …HE HIMSELF…!  The Grinch carved the roast beast!”

Give me a break.

I just don’t buy it.  All the Who’s had at Christmas was stuff and roast beast and standing around with a kind of vacant look singing.  As I have said, I cannot, for the life of me, understand the lyrics of that song.  Do we really think such vague drivel would sustain the Who’s?  Plastered on smiles and empty words do not cut it when your stuff is gone.  Try it for yourself.  Do you think that would have worked in the 9th ward in New Orleans after Katrina?  Would it have helped to hold hands in a circle, smile, and sing a few songs that people cannot understand.  Pick out any disaster and try that approach.  See where it will get you.

In real life, the Grinch’s theft would have been a category 5 storm.  The Grinch blew a hole in the Who’s materialistic levee.  And, in real life, if all the Who’s had was fuzzy sentimentalism, they would have soured in a heartbeat.  The parents would have sued FEMA for not getting Christmas presents there on time; Who politicians have called for an investigation.  If Christmas is games and standing around in circles, holding hands, singing empty words that nobody really gets, the Who’s would have been drunk before breakfast.

Face it, the Grinch sold out.  If the choices are the Grinch’s cave or hollow Whoville, I’m with the Grinch in the first place.  Let’s just hunker down in our caves and be sour.  I have no interest in vacant smiles and sentimental words that I cannot understand despite watching the show countless times. 

But, of course, there is another alternative.  Rather than a Christmas holiday that centers on toys and food, how about a Christmas built on deep and incredible truth.  What if Christmas is about the greatest miracle, the most impossible thing that ever happened?  What if that miracle means that anyone, regardless of their painful past or dismal future, can have hope?  What if Christmas is not a matter of little candy canes but something true that will sustain us through the worst hurricanes?  And, what if we sing about it carefully, clearly, and deeply, using words that have been honed over all of church history?  This is what believers are called to do at Christmas.

The great truth of Christmas is the incarnation.  The incarnation means that when Jesus was born as a baby in Bethlehem, God joined us.  Almighty and Holy God became humanity without ceasing to be deity.  John Murray wrote succinctly, “The incarnation means that he who never began to be in his specific identity as God, began to be what he eternally was not (Murray, Vol. 2, 132).

Too much of American Christmas is “Whoville”: standing in circles saying phrases that may or may not make sense.  Carefully formulated, deep truth is what will anchor us in storms.

Unlike the Who’s down in Whoville, theologians have precisely worked out the wording of the incarnation over the last 2000 years.  The Westminster Standards summarize, “Two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion (Westminster Confession of Faith, VIII, ii, quoted in Murray, Vol 2, page 137),” no conversion: God was not changed, no composition: a third hybrid was not formed that involved both deity and humanity, no confusion: deity and humanity are not a mixture.

Careful, understandable doctrine: Welcome Christmas, Christmas Day.

As for miracles, the incarnation is the greatest one that ever took place, far greater than seas parting or lions purring.  According to Wayne Grudem,

“[The incarnation] is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible – – far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing even than the creation of the universe.  The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe (Grudem, 563).”

It gets better.  The incarnation was not a miracle for miracle’s sake.  God the Father had a purpose.  The author of Hebrews writes:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.(Heb 2:14-17).”

Because we are humans, Christ shared our humanity so that He might destroy Satan and free us from our fear of category 5 storms in whatever form they might come.

The Grinch has been far too real in recent years.  His theft has not been animated.  Cities have flooded.  People have drowned.  Losses in Iraq climb.  Standing around in a circle, telling ourselves to smile, singing “Welcome Christmas,” just isn’t going to cut it.  The real Christmas story is the only one worth coming down out of our caves over.  The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  Let us celebrate that truth with a clear, careful confession of the incarnation.  Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, Born this happy morning; Jesus, to Thee be the glory giv’n; Word of the Father, Now in the flesh appearing . . .

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great parallel, here! So true. I have often had similar (minus the nasty!) thoughts, sitting in rooms filled with people dressed up and smiling; surrounded by great food and presents and decorations… But inside, only some of the people have joy and understanding of the true celebration, while the others muffle the questions of confusion and disappointment over what life is turning out to be with with cheerful greetings and raised glasses. May the real story and “clear, careful confessions” light up our parties this year!

Comment by Shannon

Just imagine how Boris Karloff must have felt having to narrate the ending of the story!

All in all, however, that movie is sheer greatness. Who could forget “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”?

Perhaps they should put an alternate ending on the DVD version. What would that look like?


It’s a classic. There is a reason that I know it so well that I can quote it.

I also used the dog Max as an illustration of people who are weary and burdened – – – I think I’ve probably gotten about all I can out of the Grinch.

And, the song is one of my favorites.

Comment by cdbrauns

[…] Chris says the Grinch sold out. […]

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