When the Grinch "stole" Christmas he believed he had pulled off the coup of his life. Finally, he did not have to deal with that obnoxious singing, their tar-tinkers, jing-tinglers and gardinkers. He had won his "war on Christmas."
Or so it seemed.
However, on Christmas morning, even without the presents, candy canes and trees, every Who down in Who-Ville, the tall and the small, gathered in the square and sang - welcoming Christmas. A shocked Grinch could not believe what he was hearing, and in the midst of that simple, joy-filled song of a people who know that Christmas was more than an outward show, the grumpy, green Grinch felt his heart well up with that same spirit that brought the Whos out to the square that morning. And, in the line of those like Ebeneezer Scrooge, he knew how to keep Christmas from then on.
Today, many often lament the "war on Christmas" - with secular demands for a "happy holiday" rather than "Merry Christmas." We see how the celebration of the birth of the Lord has become simply an opportunity for Macy's to gain customers and Justin Bieber to sell albums, and we complain. "Let's keep Christ in Christmas!" "Jesus is the reason for the season!"
Certainly true. But the flip side of this grousing is that we can sometimes use "Merry Christmas" as an assault on others - a missile fired off in this "war on Christmas" from our end. Christians can look around and see where we are being pushed to the margins in an increasingly secular society. It's persecution, yes. But who else is persecuted?
Those who are different: the foreigner, the gay, the Muslim.
Those who are afflicted: the alcoholic, the addict, the sinner.
Those who are in need: the unborn, the elderly, the sick.
I know of a man who willingly associated with these folks. He was persecuted too. Maybe this is just where the Church needs to be in order to more faithfully identify with those most in need of God's mercy and love. If we cannot, then we have lost the "war."
Instead, we are called to gather in the square - even without the outward show of the lights, signs, greetings, bum-gumblers, and zoo-zither-parkays. There, we can sing the simple song of welcome to the One who comes into the world in a stable, because there was no room in any place of comfort. And yet, there in the manger, the greatest joy to the world was first proclaimed.
Today, God’s Word calls us to look for joy in unexpected places: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.” And we must follow suit – looking for the simple joy of a Baby born in a manger, rather than in the silver bells and decked halls. In faith, the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers and cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. This is not what we would expect – it may not even be what we are looking for – however, like the Grinch or Mr. Scrooge, the witness of that faith has the power to transform our hearts and bring true joy that nothing can take from us.
Our faith is often about recognizing the reality behind the signs. From death, we experience resurrection and true life, in Bread and Wine, we encounter our Lord Jesus, and in the simplicity of a Baby’s cry we experience our redemption. Isaiah knew this hundreds of years ago – even before Jesus – “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.” This is our attitude this holy season, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord.
Let’s make up our minds in faith now to receive that joy from God and to share it with everyone we meet – be it in a greeting of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” This true joy, for us, comes from embracing the real meaning of this season.