The Promise of the Gospel in ‘The Grinch’

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What’s your favorite Christmas movie? Whatever it may be, you’re sure to want to share it with the teenagers in your life. Watch the Rooted blog this holiday season, where we are uncovering the gospel in some of the all-time great Christmas films. We’ll help you keep Christ at the center of your Christmas celebrations, at home and at church. Enjoy!

In the past three weeks, the 2018 version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas has become one of my son and daughter’s favorite movies. The Grinch captures their little two- and three-year-old attention, and I am glad it does. It captures my 28-year-old attention because it speaks to several important truths and themes from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Growing up, I loved the 1966 TV short of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. My family and I made a point of watching it every year, and it is easily a top-five favorite Christmas movie for me. But I enjoy the newer movie because it adds layers to the story not found in the original. The newer film follows the same storyline as the Dr. Seuss version, but it adds to the original story in several (good) ways.

For example, we learn that Mrs. Who works the nightshift at the hospital in Whoville while being a single mom to Cindy-Lou and her younger twin brothers. Cindy-Lou devises a plan to capture Santa Claus in hopes that he can give her mom some needed rest because she sees the toll working and taking care of kids has on her mom (sound familiar?).

One of the subtle differences I have noticed is how the newer movie portrays the Grinch. He is still a miserable wretch, and no reasonable person would touch him with a 39 ½ foot pole. Yet throughout the movie, the Grinch is also depicted as having a tender side to him that has been severely wounded by his past. The newest version details how the Grinch hates Christmas because of the jealousy and unworthiness he felt growing up in an orphanage and watching other Who boys and girls celebrate Christmas Day with their families. The Grinch has a panic attack as he stands in the middle of the Whoville town square during the Christmas tree lighting and recalls the memories of years past. By the time he settles down, the Grinch declares, “I must stop this whole thing!”

As we know from the classic story, the Grinch indeed does “steal” Christmas from the Whos in Whoville—if by stealing we mean their Christmas trees, decorations, gifts, Who-pudding, and roast beast. In the latest version of the movie, Cindy-Lou captures the Grinch, who’s pretending to be Santa, so that she can tell him about her mom. It is Cindy Lou’s heart and concern for her mom that moves the Grinch to resist throwing the Whos’ Christmas belongings off the side of Mt. Crumpit. As the Grinch looks down on the Who’s gathered around the town Christmas tree singing, the narrator asks, “if he did what she did, would he feel what she felt?” For the first time, the Grinch realizes the joy, hope, and happiness Cindy-Lou experiences is available to him too.

With a drastic change in heart, the Grinch, along with his dog Max and Fred the reindeer, saves the sleigh from toppling down the mountain. He rides back into Whoville to apologize for what he has done, returning all of the Whos’ belongings. After the Grinch returns home, he feels just as empty and unwanted as he did before, and he falls back into his fleshly tendency to isolate himself from the world in which he believes he has no place. Out of nowhere, the doorbell rings and Cindy-Lou asks the Grinch to come to her family’s Christmas feast. Stunned, the Grinch responds: “What? Me? But I took your gifts and your trees. I stole your whole Christmas.” Cindy-Lou replies, “Yeah I know. I know you did. But we’re inviting you anyway. You’ve been alone long enough.”

Good News for Teenagers

The gospel permeates The Grinch from start to finish. While teenagers (and adults) can feel isolated, misunderstood, and out of place, Jesus promises us that he has prepared a place for all of us so that we can dwell with him (John 14:3). While teenagers and parents can feel burned out from the myriad of responsibilities and commitments placed upon them, Jesus promises us a sure and steady rest when we learn to take up Christ’s yoke and cast our anxiety on him (Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Pet. 5:7). While we feel unacceptable, unloved, and guilty, we are promised “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1-2).

Although we believe in the hope of the gospel, we sometimes do not live as if that hope is actually true. Hope often comes in surprising and unexpected ways. Surely the Grinch could not have imagined that Cindy-Lou Who would reveal his need and capacity for joy and happiness. In a somewhat similar way for believers, our faith deepens and hope rises as a result of those who point us to Christ, just as John the Baptist did when Jesus began his public ministry (John 1:29-34). Even when we ignore or do not see our need for forgiveness, or perhaps believe we are unworthy of it altogether (like the Grinch), Christ promises that our sins are forgiven and that we may go in peace (Matt. 9:1-8)

“You’ve been alone long enough” is the refrain of the Advent season. Jesus is coming, so we wait patiently, expectantly, and joyfully to behold Jesus in the manger. Better yet, the Advent season is a foretaste of what is to come. The Whos’ gathering around the table at the end of the movie is a beautiful picture of the power of community we can experience now. And it reminds us of the hope that one day, we too will experience a great feast where we all worship Jesus, the Lamb of God. Until then, the promise of the gospel and the hope of the Christmas season remain steadfastly true, even in The Grinch.

Conversation Starters

  1. How and where do you see sin and brokenness in the Grinch’s life?
  2. How does Cindy-Lou befriend and help the Grinch? What does this say about how we can point others to Christ?
  3. Sometimes, it is easy to feel alone, isolated, and without hope. How does the gospel of Jesus give us hope in times like these?
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