By DoRena Wirgau
Everyone seems to love Christmas villains--the Grinch, Scrooge, that rich guy from “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Who doesn’t love to hate the grumps who try to spoil the holiday fun? They make great stories, and it is easy to identify with their victims. Because the truth is that in real life we all have a Grinch--someone or something that seems to steal our Christmas and leaves our hearts or our homes feeling empty.
Sometimes our Grinch is concrete, like a boss who makes us work on Christmas, a fire that destroys all the decorations, an unexpected expense that drains the Christmas savings account, or the cancer that is killing Grandma. Sometimes the ugly green monsters in our lives are less tangible, rising from our own sinful hearts: anger at our misbehaving children, the secular “war on Christmas,” the guy who took our parking spot, or disappointment with the music selections for the children’s program. And then sometimes they are feelings that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t escape. Fear. Homesickness. Longing. Sadness.
Whatever our Grinch is, big or small, he has a way of sucking up our warm fuzzy feelings like a vacuum. How are we supposed to have a happy Christmas when we feel as empty as the Whos’ houses? The mailman brings glitter-covered tidings of Peace! Hope! Joy! But December is rarely peaceful, our hope is for a good night’s sleep, and we try to buy “joy” for our kids, 75% off on Amazon. Like Charlie Brown, we are melancholy and feel we are helpless to do anything but throw up our hands and pout, “Good Grief!”
Yet, ready or not, Christmas still comes. Christmas comes because Christ came. He was born, He died, He rose. He has destroyed death and the devil, and, yes, even all the Grinches in your life. The Word Made Flesh comes to us here and now, and fills our emptiness with Himself.
He does this even if we don’t feel empty. Perhaps this time of year is glittery and magical for you, and you feel full of the warm glow of the season. For many this really is the most wonderful time of the year. Thanks be to God for this gift of earthly happiness! But, alas, earthly feelings are temporary, and even when we feel happy and things are going our way, we still need Jesus.
Our lives here are tainted with sin. How often is our happiness schadenfreude, that feeling of relief and happiness at others misfortunes? “Whew! Glad that cop is after that other guy, and I wasn’t caught speeding this time!” Our happiness is sometimes pride in our Pinterest-perfect cards and packages. Or maybe our happiness is staying in pajamas all day on Christmas, sipping cocoa by the tree, smiling at our family and thinking “All I Want for Christmas is You!” Christmas is a time for family, right?
Yes, Christmas is a time to give thanks and enjoy the God-given gift of family, but not in place of the other gifts from our Lord. Christmas is about Jesus coming for us, and He does not come in a stocking on the mantle. Whether we are feeling empty or full, God fills us with His Word and Sacraments, preached and distributed through our pastors, at our churches. So go to church on Christmas, and receive these gifts!
It is Christ who fills our hearts, and makes our cups overflow – and spill out for those around us. Like Scrooge on Christmas morning or the Grinch after his heart tripled in size, we too can serve our neighbors. We can give gifts and cookies. We can eat, drink, and be merry! We can make the hot cocoa, put our PJs back on after church, and snuggle by the tree.
For us Christ was hung on a tree, not one trimmed with silver and gold, but dripping crimson with His blood. He feeds us with His very body and that very blood, under bread and wine. In Baptism we were washed with real water and swaddled in robes whiter than even Bing Crosby’s snow. In Confession and Absolution we are reconciled with Him. In Christ we have the hope and promise of eternal peace that surpasses our human understanding. And that is something no Grinch can steal.
DoRena Wirgau is the big sister of nine, pastor's daughter, mother of four, and wife of a dual-parish pastor. She lives in rural North Texas where she spends her days reading to her children, and trying to find ways to avoid folding laundry.
Image: Detail from "Marley's Ghost" by John Leech, 1843