For many of us, Advent is a complicated season. For centuries, Christians have observed it as a season of waiting, but our contemporary culture has gotten it flipped. Rather than waiting in the darkness, the month of December offers itself as an escape from darkness. Rather than sitting in the pain, Advent has become a glittery reprieve.
Against this backdrop — and perhaps even because of it — many of us enter this season feeling wounded, weary, and disoriented. We are grieving. We are mourning. Death, divorce, infertility, illness, unemployment, and the pervasive brokenness of the world all weigh heavily on our shoulders. We trudge into Advent overwhelmed by the darkness, and the “hope” of Christmas feels inaccessible to us. Maybe even a little cruel.
The older I have become, the more I have felt this despair. The world is constantly threatening to seize my hope, and perhaps that is why a book from my childhood — How The Grinch Stole Christmas — has taken on new meaning to me as an adult. He was not, after all, the first person who tried to steal Christmas.
Now that I am a mother, I eagerly curl up with my children to read this familiar story. I monitor their rapt faces from the corner of my eye because it all takes me straight back to my childhood. The story of the Grinch is about a Christmas that almost wasn’t. It’s the story of someone who wanted to keep Christmas from coming, so he set out to steal it and destroy it.
And I know that story well.
In John 10:10 Jesus warns, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Two thousand years later, Jesus’s warning remains timely and evident. There is a Thief in our midst, and each year his handiwork is clear. It is in the news, and in our lives.
And yet, when I read the story of the Grinch, I am reminded that he and this Thief hold two things in common. The first is their desire; the second is their defeat. Both the Grinch and the Thief failed to accomplish what they set out to do, and we remember this truth every single year. No matter what happens, no matter the pain or the loss, nothing erases December 25 from the calendar. Whatever we have experienced this year, or lost this year, nothing will stop this day from coming back around, the day we remember when God intervened by taking on human form, by becoming like us, so that we could become like him.
And this, this relentlessness, is a promise. Each year, when Christmastime rolls back around, it points to the One great Christmas to come, the one ultimate Christmas that nothing can stop from coming:
No mass shootings.
No cancer diagnosis.
No broken relationships.
No job loss.
Not even the failure of the church itself can stop this Christmas from coming. Our experience of Christmas might change over the years, but Christmas will always come. It is relentless–like the seasons, like the sun–testifying to a relentless promise, that Christ will come again.
In the final pages of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, you will find a line with these words:
“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming. It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same.”
An eternal truth, tucked into the pages of a book for children. Despite all that is going on in the world, and all that is going on in our lives, Christmas comes just the same. And it will come, and it will come, and it will come again, until that day when Christ himself returns, once and for all. No Grinch, no thief, can stop the relentless promise of Christmas.
Christmas is relentless, and gloriously so. Let our hope be relentless too.