What the Whos Didn’t Say

This year, a bit of bad news coincided with an airing of the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas. At 105 minutes, the film is 75 to 80 minutes too long, and abysmal enough to rate as bad news in itself. In particular, it throws out the point made in both Dr. Seuss’ book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and the excellent Chuck Jones cartoon narrated by Boris Karloff: The Whos knew what Christmas was about, while the Grinch didn’t. In the movie, the Whos don’t, or have forgotten until little Cindy Lou tells them, which put a lot of people off the movie from the very start.

Worse, what she, and later her father, says about Christmas sounds warm and fuzzy – unless there’s an empty seat or more at the table. The grief is especially sharp when it happens this time of year. If, as Lou Lou Who implies, Christmas is about family, is it still Christmas when a family member is no longer there?

The curious thing is that Theodore Geisel (that’s Dr. Seuss) never said just what is the meaning. We have the famous passage:

“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!’”

But what is “a little bit more?” That’s never stated. Clearly the point is that commercialization and, dare we say it, hype, is not Christmas. But if not, what is?

The quick answer was summed up by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown, frustrated by commercialization (in a TV special sponsored to advertise products – cough), laments that he doesn’t know what Christmas is really about, and asks, rhetorically, if anyone knows. Linus says “Sure, I’ll tell you what Christmas is all about,” and quotes Luke 2:8-14:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.’”

Then he says “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Even though Geisel skirts this point (as do most Christmas specials, if they address it at all), the idea of Christmas as the observance of the birth of Jesus Christ isn’t a foreign thing in our culture – yet. But perhaps because it’s so familiar, we overlook the significance. For that we have to look to the observance of Good Friday and Easter, when Christians mark the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For this is the point of Christianity: That God Himself came to be born and to live among us, died in our place, was raised from the dead, and through what He did, we may no longer be separated from Him.

This is the point of many Christian hymns, such as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, heard at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas. We only hear the familiar first verse, which contain the words “… glory to the newborn King … God and sinner reconciled …” Other verses have the words “… veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell …” and “now He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give the second birth …” In this one song is contained both the birth of Jesus Christ and the shadow of the cross. This is what Christmas is all about.

This is why Christmas doesn’t come from a store or vapid, fluffy, platitudes. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with the lights, the tinsel, the gifts, the music, and the family gatherings. Yet all this can be gone in an instant. Yet the promise of Christmas remains. This is why it’s possible to find a glimmer of light in the darkest Christmas, though our hearts may ache with grief; Christmas is a celebration of Christian hope through Jesus Christ.

This is the “…little bit more” that goes unsaid in How The Grinch Stole Christmas! And since this is a gift from God Himself, no Grinch can ever take it away.