The Redemption of the Grinch

Alyce Weaver Dunn

12/14/2022

 

Rev. Alyce Weaver Dunn, Director of Connectional Ministries, explains her love for the Grinch and why she sees the classic Dr. Suess tale as a perfect redemption story in this blog post first published in 2019.

In case you haven’t noticed, I love the Grinch! If you need proof, just look at my Facebook page – every year multiple people tag me in posts about Grinch snacks and green cookies, cool t-shirts, sweet punch, awesome Christmas trees and such. Or come to my house and enjoy the Grinch themed decorations that fill our home. And, there was the time I wore my Grinch onesie at the all-building conference staff lunch...

Since I was a little girl, I have loved the classic story about the odd, uniquely green character, his loyal dog Max, and a village called Whoville.  The famous children’s author, Dr. Seuss – or Theodor Geisel – wrote the book in 1966 which was immediately produced as an animated Christmas cartoon. The show’s TV debut was on December 18, 1966 – and I am sure that Alyce Ruth Weaver at the tender age of 3 years and 354 days old was one of the first viewers. Watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been one of my most prized Christmas traditions – one that I have maintained for 5 decades - and I was a fan long before the current fad of all things Grinch. 

People are often perplexed by my obsession with the Grinch, though. Every year when I post my annual Grinch portrait on Facebook, inevitably someone will comment something like this – how can someone so nice like the mean, nasty Grinch? There’s obviously 2 things wrong with that comment – 

  1. I am not always as nice as I appear to be –I have my days, friends, when nice is not the norm; and 
  2. These observers don’t really understand the story of the Grinch. 

So, let me share some testimony this morning of why I love the Grinch – and why I believe it has a powerful faith message.

First we need to meet the characters and understand some things about them – and this is where I use my hermeneutic imagination.

The Characters

The Grinch

Of course, there is the Grinch himself. On the surface, he is mean and hateful and unlovable. The best description comes from a song in the show: “You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch, You're a nasty wasty skunk, Your heart is full of unwashed socks, Your soul is full of gunk, Mr Grinch.” The premise of the story is that the Grinch is so full of hatred and malice that he plans to steal Christmas from his joyful neighbors down in Whoville – and he actually accomplishes his evil plan. At first glance, he has a small, hard, conniving heart with an aversion to all things good. Who could anyone ever love such a vile creature?

Hmmm…. Have you ever thought about what the Grinch’s backstory may be? The story suggests that his head was not screwed on right or that his shoes were too tight. I offer these insights into why the Grinch was the way he was. The Grinch lives alone in a remote cave, far above the town of Whoville. Is that by choice – or has he been rejected by the Whos down in Whoville? The Grinch looks different than the Whos – although Dr. Seuss did not originally portray the Grinch as green, is was obvious that he was “not from around here” – perhaps the refugee, the immigrant, a person from the non-dominant culture.  Maybe he had some kind of physical ailment that set him apart – like a leper, an unclean one, an untouchable. Maybe the Grinch had an unsavory past – a criminal, an outcast, the rejected. Maybe the Grinch has experienced a deep loss and has retreated to work through his pain and grief. Maybe the Grinch is not evil but simply a broken soul lashing out at a world that has no place for him? Maybe the Grinch is you and me – someone who wants to be loved and accepted, one who is searching for hope and peace, one who is worth redeeming?

Max the dog

And then there’s Max the dog, the Grinch’s lovable little sidekick. Max is a bright spot in the story. He may not have a choice in who his master is, but he loves with an unconditional love. Forced to wear a hefty antler on his head to take on the appearance of a reindeer, tied to a sleigh and whipped into action, Max manages to provide comedic relief to the story as perches himself atop the sleigh and has a moment of pure joy as he speeds down the hill to Whoville. He does not run away from his cruel master, but sticks with him, loving and loyal as they trespass and steal. Even as the duo begins their ascent back up Mt. Krumpit with a sleigh loaded with stolen goods, Max is faithful. Even as the sleigh teeters on the summit of the mountain, Max tries to help his master accomplish the impossible and save Christmas. Max loves unconditionally, even to the point of being willing to give his life to save the day.

The Whos

Finally, there’s the Whos themselves, the residents of Whoville. On the surface, the Whos are the antithesis of the Grinch – they are happy and joyful and they love to throw a great party. They produce adorable children, like Cindy Lou Who “who was no more than two,” and pamper them with overflowing gifts, candy and decorations. Yet, these happy Whos are the very ones who may have rejected the Grinch. Perhaps they confess friendliness – but to only people they know or who are like them or who hold the same political views as them. And consider a typical Christmas for the Whos as described in the lyrics of the opening song in the show:

Trim up the tree with Christmas stuff
Like bingle balls and whofoo fluff
Trim up the town with googoo gums
And bizilbigs and wums
Trim every blessed window and trim every blessed door
Hang up whoboohoo bricks then run out and get some more!
Hang pantookas on the ceilings
Pile panpoonas on the floor
Trim every blessed needle on the blessed Christmas tree
Christmas comes tomorrow. Trim you, trim me!
Trim up your tree with fuzzle fuzz
And fliffer bloofs, and wuzzle wuzz
Trim up your uncle and your aunt
With yards of whoflut flay



Sounds like a commercialized Christmas to me! Maybe the Whos compensated for their own uncertainties in life by filling Christmas with stuff rather than meaning. Maybe the Whos were covering up their own pain and rejection – if you decorate everything and everybody – even your aunt and uncle – you won’t have to face the deep void in your own heart.  Maybe the glitz of a Who Christmas covered up the fragile, broken and far from perfect hearts of its residents. Maybe the Grinch was not the only one whose heart was too small...
 

Transformation

So now that you have met the main characters and gained some perspective of who they are we come to the moment when ALL of the characters were transformed.  After taking everything in Whoville, even the last crumb for a Who mouse, the Grinch was preparing to dump the packages and decorations and food off the peak of Mt. Krumpit.  He paused to savor his triumph.

"Pooh-pooh to the Whos!" he was grinchily humming.
"They're finding out now that no Christmas is coming!
They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
Then the Whos down in Whoville will all cry boo-hoo!
That's a noise," grinned the Grinch, "that I simply must hear!"
He paused, and the Grinch put a hand to his ear.
In the next moment, the Grinch is surprised…no shocked!  Instead of sounds of weeping and despair, the Grinch hears joyful singing rising up the mountain.  Having lost everything, the Whos are not crying but singing.  Although the Grinch speaks the following lines, I like to think that he voices what the Whos also discovered that morning:
And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"
He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.
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!
The Grinch starts to consider an alternate narrative to Christmas – but then the sleigh overloaded with the Who’s Christmas starts to slide off the mountain.  As the Grinch and Max together risk their lives to save the sleigh, the best moment of the story happens.  
And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!
And then the true meaning of Christmas came through,
And the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!

What a wonderful moment of transformation!  The closed off, hurting heart of the Grinch broke open!  Now Max was invited to ride on the sleigh with his Master. Now the Grinch returned everything to those whom he had wronged. Now the Whos widened the circle and included the outsider in the community – even bestowing upon him the honor of “carving the roast beast” at the Who feast.  Everyone in the story has been changed – and now there is true joy infused into the new Christmas celebration.

What upsets me most about people’s misunderstandings about the Grinch is that they focus only on the beginning of the story – the mean, hateful Grinch who wants to steal Christmas from the Whos. Everyone seems to forget that the Grinch was transformed in a significant way – and that by the end of the story, he was loving and kind and finally at peace with his neighbors. As I tell people, don’t judge the Grinch by the beginning of his story but by how his story ends.
 

The Grinch and... Scripture?

And so it is with the scripture lesson from II Corinthians 5. The apostle Paul writes these powerful words, “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!”

 Although the Grinch was never intended to be a Christian tale, I can’t help but seeing the parallels to our faith story.  God sent his son Jesus into the world to save sinners, the least, the lost, the unworthy – which really means all of us because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The power of the gospel story is that God has loved us so much that he sent his only Son into the world and that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  Christ has come to transform us – to turn us away from sin, to encourage us to put on the clothing of faith, to change our hearts, even small hearts like yours and mine.  Thank goodness, God does not judge us by the beginning of our story, but by the end.  The promise is given that we become new creations through Christ – the old goes away, the new takes its place.  As we grow in Christ, so our hearts grow in their capacity to love – the scripture tells us that we can even become ambassadors for Jesus as we share our love with others, as we give of ourselves for others. 
 

 

Seeing the Grinch in Myself

I love the Grinch because I see myself in him – a soul changed, a life redeemed, a heart transformed – a new creation who has a new future and a new hope. I love the Grinch because I am reminded that not only does God love me –but he loves each and every one of you, too, even on your most unlovable of days.  The good news is that God does not judge us at the beginning of our story but at the end.
This week we started the journey of Advent, a time of preparation to welcome the Christ Child into our hearts and to be ready for when he comes again.  Advent is the perfect opportunity for transformation – to become the new creation God intends us to be. So I invite you to welcome Jesus into your hearts – either for the first time or once again. I invite you to increase your heart capacity as you look beyond yourself and consider the needs of others. I invite you to go deeper in your faith, wrestling with the difficult parts of life, and discover the new hope and future God has in store for you.  And remember, God does not judge us on the beginning of our story but on the end.  So, may Advent be a time of new beginnings – and may our hearts grow, even 3 sizes, today!  


Want to hear more? Listen to Alyce discuss the redemption of the Grinch in the Meet in the Middle Podcast.

 


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