When I was a little girl, my family had an unconventional Christmas tradition. It began one Christmas morning when my brother and I raced downstairs, only to discover our stockings were gone. In their place, a ransom note.
We were, of course, very concerned. We snatched the note from the mantle and carefully read the terms of our stockings’ return. Below the instructions, our Christmas culprit had scrawled his name:
The note contained a series of riddles and clues that would lead us to our stockings’ location. These riddles turned out to be surprisingly hard, and I will never forget my dad barking at my mom to keep quiet, while she tried to sneak us the answers. It was a lot of mental strain for a Christmas morning, but it was an instant hit.
The Grinch scavenger hunt became a Christmas staple for years, and I begged my dad to continue it long after we were kids. He finally stopped the tradition when we were teenagers, so I hadn’t given much thought to the Grinch until this year, when I introduced him to my 3 year-old son.
Two weeks ago, we curled up in my son’s bed, and I read the story’s familiar verse. All the while, I monitored Isaac’s rapt face from the corner of my eye, especially as we neared the end. Then, on one of the last pages, I noticed something I hadn’t before.
The story of the Grinch is about a Christmas that almost wasn’t. It’s about a person who believed he could keep Christmas from coming. He thought he could steal it, and in turn destroy it.
And I have heard this story before.
It is Advent, the season of waiting, though you wouldn’t know it from the yard inflatables. For many people, Advent is about joyful anticipation, not unfulfilled longing. Most Americans put up the tree, string up the lights, and celebrate all month long.
Even so, this particular Christmas season has been marred by terrible news: multiple mass shootings. Refugees. Political division. Racism. The darkness has invaded my personal life too. I have friends enduring divorce, cancer, unemployment, miscarriage.
This Christmas season has been a rough one, and I know many of you are staving off despair like a ravenous lion, its hot breath on your necks, threatening to consume you. The hopelessness seems all the more cruel against the backdrop of a “merry” Christmas season. I feel this brokenness too, and I have groaned underneath the weight of it.
Yet with each new batch of bad news, my mind has returned again and again to that mischievous Grinch. He was not, after all, the first person who tried to “steal” Christmas, or to keep Christmas from coming.
In John 10:10 Jesus warns, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus’ warning feels especially relevant this Christmas season: there is a thief in our midst. He is far more sinister than the Grinch, and this year–this Advent–his handiwork is clear. He is out to steal, kill, and destroy our hope.
This Thief has two things in common with the Grinch. First is their desire. Second is their defeat. Both failed to accomplish what they set out to do. The Thief failed 2,000 years ago, and he is failing even now. No matter what happens, no matter the pain or the loss, nothing has ever stopped Christmas from coming. Not this year, not next year, and not the one, final Christmas, to which all these Christmases point.
No mass shootings.
No cancer diagnosis.
No broken relationships.
No job loss.
Not even the failure of the church itself.
None of these things can stop Christmas from coming. Our experience of Christmas might change over the years, but Christmas will always come. It is relentless–like the seasons, like the sun–testifying to a relentless promise: Christ will come again.
In the final pages of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, there is a line with these words:
“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming. It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same.”
A powerful truth, tucked into the pages of a children’s book. Despite all that is going on in the world, and all that is going on in your life, Christmas will come. And it will come, and it will come, and it will come again. Until that day when Christ himself returns, and puts a stop to all the pain, all the suffering, all the stealing and destroying. No thief can stop the relentless promise of Christmas.
So whatever your Christmas is like this year, I want you to remember this: Christmas is not about the lights, or the decorations, or the parties, or the food. It’s not about where you celebrate it, and it’s not even about who you are with. It’s about the truth that Christmas comes, and Christmas is coming, and no one and no thing can ever stop it.
Christmas is relentless. Let our hope be relentless too. Against all reason, and against all the schemings of that terrible thief, let’s persevere in hope. Because this is not the end of the story. Christ will come again.