Since I was a child, one of my favorite Christmas specials was Dr. Suess’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The Grinch, whose heart was “two sizes too small,” tries to stop Christmas from coming by stealing all the lights, food, decorations, and presents on Christmas Eve. Yet, much to the Grinch’s surprise:
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming, it CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
Of course, in this fictional Christmas story, there is a happy ending.
And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light,
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
And he, HE HIMSELF! The Grinch carved the roast beast!
This Christmas favorite resonates with me as a Christian post-Election Day. With the rise of hate crimes around the country after the Donald Trump’s victory on November 8, for many of us, it may not feel like Christmas is coming. The sexual assault survivor, the devout Muslim in hijab afraid to walk down the street, the immigrant family subject to harassment by neighbors, the gay couple hoping to adopt children, the African American man targeted by others solely for the color his skin, the disabled woman who just wants respect and access to the medical care she needs, all may not feel like decking the halls, singing carols, and trimming trees. Instead of music and cheer, the air is filled with hopelessness and despair.
As a Christian, what I appreciate about the story of the Grinch is that it forces one to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, which, as Dr. Suess brilliantly points out, is not the feasts and the packages, but love.
We may not always remember this as we hang our stockings and blast “Jingle Bell Rock,” but the very first Christmas was not filled with joy, laughter, and hope. A teenage Middle Eastern woman was found with child. The man to whom she was betrothed was confused and planned to divorce her quietly so she could avoid the harsh legal penalty for conceiving out of wedlock. Yet, after reassurance from an angel, he stays with her and accepts her son as his own. Forced to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, she gave birth in a filthy stable, without the comforts of home or modern medicine to ease her pain.
Her son, Jesus, grew up an insignificant Galilean, a subject of the Roman Empire under the rule of Herod Antipas. He lived among the oppressed. The rich minority took advantage of the poor majority, peasants could barely subsist on their own after all the labor and taxation required of them.
This, Christians believe, is the situation in which God, our Savior, took on human flesh and walked among us. It was a situation of fear, hopelessness, and immense inequality. Yet, nonetheless, the Savior came. CHRISTMAS HAPPENED. Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom of God, and while this message ultimately led him to the cross, it taught us something- it saved us! In the words of Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus showed us that “God’s cause is the human cause.”
Christmas happened in that manger around 4 BCE and Christmas will come again this year. As Jesus taught so long ago, God is with us. God comes to us where we are, in the midst of the aftermath of a disappointing election, in the midst of racial tension, homophobia, xenophobia, and intense polarization.
Of course, I cannot in good conscience say that I expect a Dr. Suess-like happy ending for our country. I am not so naïve as to think that in a few weeks or even years, Donald Trump will sit down to a roast beef with a group of “Nasty Women” and “Bad Hombres” and suddenly experience a conversion.
However, Christian faith does allow me to say that Christmas will come no matter what happens. No amount of hatred or fear or intolerance can keep God’s presence away from us. Jesus’ compassion for the suffering ultimately led to his brutal death by government authorities that wanted to silence him. He suffered both physical and emotional pain, and even cried out, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” For Jesus and those watching him in this moment of desperation, it must have seemed like God was absent.
But God was not absent. Three days later, God raised Jesus from the dead. Whether or not there literally was an empty tomb is not the point. What Christians can claim with confidence is that Jesus’ disciples experienced his presence after his death, were reconciled with him (after so many of them, with the exception of a few women, deserted him in his final moments), and were so transformed that they chose to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to spreading the “Good News.” Unfortunately, throughout history, the “Good News of Jesus Christ as God among us,” has, at times, been distorted by various interests and ideologies to justify violence and discrimination. However, the Jesus who showed that the reign of God is breaking in wherever kindness and compassion are shown to the poor and suffering, has never, and will never be, completely silenced. Even for those who do not claim, with Christians, that Jesus is God incarnate, can be and are inspired by his radical inclusivity toward women, and his love and outreach to oppressed and outcast.
So, as Christmas approaches yet again, I urge us to remember that it is not only “The Grinch” in our lives whose heart needs to grow. All of our hearts can afford to grow bigger. “God’s cause is the human cause.” There is no qualifier. We must strive to see the image of God in all of God’s creatures – men, women, African Americans, Latinos, Caucasians, immigrants, Syrian refugees, Muslims, Jews, Christians, gays, lesbians, transgender persons, politicians, protesters, police offers, our friends, our enemies, and yes, even, Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “Hatred cannot drive out hatred. Only love can do that.” We may not be able to change the results of this election and we do not know what the future holds. But we all capable of spreading love even further than we already are. This includes tasks both big and small. Not all of us are politicians, community organizers, ministers, or persons in leadership positions that can reach large groups of people. But all of us are members of the human race. We can all make an effort to listen more, to reach out with an offer of friendship to the people around us who may be frightened, to volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless center, to sacrifice one of our holiday indulgences to send a donation to an organization that needs it.
Christmas is coming. Let us prepare.