by Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson for The Christian Citizen

During the holiday season that leads to the celebration of the birth of Christ, culture manifests an atmosphere, unlike any other time of the year. Trees are erected symbolizing the advent of Christmas, and lights are strung illuminating the spirit of Christ. Music specific to this time of year will reverberate throughout homes, offices, stores, from YouTube, Amazon Music, Spotify and other streaming platforms.

This is an attempt to embrace something magical, or something different in life. It will be an attempt to grasp feelings and sensations that recall fond memories of years past or manufacture desires and dreams of what is yet to be. The sense for some will be contagious. Spreading “good cheer” generates a sense of goodness. In addition, showing kindness provokes a sense of generosity in the giver as well as the one receiving. However, as much as many of us look forward to the season that brings joy, there is another side of the season that is just as palpable. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a Christmas classic. It demonstrates that not everyone is infected with the spirit of joy, kindness, generosity, and peace.

The Grinch, a character created by Dr. Seuss, is a green, cat-faced, oddly-shaped creature that has a cynical personality. In Dr. Seuss’s account about “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” it is speculated that the Grinch is malicious and hates Christmas because he has a heart that is two times too small. This classic tale reveals that there are people who struggle with the “good cheer” at Christmas. There are people who do not find the season of expectation enchanting, nor do they look forward to it.

This season of Advent and Christmastide will be distinctively different from any that have come before. This season will be plagued with the fallout of a divisive election. It will be saturated with a pandemic that has altered lives. It will possess embers that remind us of those whom we lost; it will be a time that has the potential to be emotionally heavier than ever before. 

What the Grinch helps us to remember is that even though the sensation of peace, kindness, joy, and generosity is heightened during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, there are those who are inoculated against these things. Perhaps there is a heart abnormality—not a physical defect, but a spiritual and emotional one. The Grinch not have the capacity to show the joy, peace, kindness, and generosity that the people in Whoville religiously demonstrated. Their faithful demonstration of Christmas joy did more to irritate the Grinch than win him over. It was not until he had taken what he thought was the source of their faithful joy that he learned more about them and their devotion.

As we move through this season of Advent and Christmastide, it will be challenging to faithfully demonstrate joy, peace, kindness, and generosity after a year that showed so much chaos, calamity, and death. To many, this past year has been a year that has brought tears and frustrations about family, finances, and futures. In this season of Advent and Christmas, some may be infected with a heart abnormality that growls at the thought of “good tidings” and “great joy.” This heart abnormality may have been a growing product of a joyless life from the start. It may have been the product of more grief that one can reasonably handle.

However, what the season of Advent and Christmas offers is not simply a time of pleasant gestures and insincere displays of affection. This is a time that believers focus intently on giving God a gift. While we celebrate the gift that God gave to humanity, this is also a time to reflect that gift from within. The gift given to humanity is comprised of peace, joy, kindness, and generosity. This gift cannot be purchased from Macy’s, Walmart, Target, or Amazon. This gift is found in the heart. It is found in the heart that has offered one’s life to God. The people of Whoville did not set out to change the Grinch. The joy from within the lives of the people from Whoville was seen and that was the power that changed the Grinch. The Grinch realized that the people were not simply happy because they had presents and things. Their joy was a reflection of their relationship with the one responsible for the gifts. It is my belief that joy, kindness and generosity is a by-product of peace. Peace is that tranquility that comes from within. Nevertheless, it is there because it reflects a life offered to God.

Perhaps a look at the beloved prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is a good place to begin. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Those who are instruments of peace are peace providers.

An instrument of peace provides harmony. It does not seek peace by praying for others to change or hoping others would change to reflect what they believe. Those who are instruments of peace usher in a sense of calm. To be an instrument of peace requires an individual to be at peace within themselves. Instruments of peace are a “non-anxious” presence. It is my firm belief that St. Francis’ prayer is a guide during tumultuous times and life in general. May we find the capacity to cultivate the gift of peace far beyond the holiday season.

The Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson is pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, Endicott, N.Y.

Photo by Andreas Avgousti on Unsplash