How The Grinch Stole Christmas
Our season of Thanksgiving has come and gone and now we have entered into the most wonderful time of the year. Maybe you have noticed that it’s also the busiest time of the year. Maybe you are like us and quickly notice that there are a hundred different things clamoring for your time an attention during this holiday season. Some of you are waiting for your new credit card to come in the mail since you wore the numbers off your old one on Black Friday. Some of you are spending hours worrying about the perfect gift to show someone how much you care, others are just trying to make sure you bought enough gift cards. Some of you want to get just sick enough to miss the office Christmas Party but not sick enough to mess with your holiday plans. And some of you are in full panic mode trying to figure out where you are going to sit all those folks that are coming over for dinner.
Regardless of how busy we are, this truly is a wonderful time of the year. There are so many things that only happen during the Christmas season. The radio begins to play some of your favorite songs, Santa Claus shows up in the mall, and our televisions broadcast some of the most loved movies of all time. In our home we always take time out during this time of the year to sit on the couch and rewatch all of those beautiful movies like A Miracle of 34th Street, A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Elf. It is a great part of our Christmas Tradition.
I think that Television and Movies have become the modern form of a parable. Over the next few weeks I am hoping to use these parables as our jumping off place as we talk about the magic of Christmas and how we can allow that spirit to be seen in our lives.
Our first parable was originally a book that was penned by the great theologian Dr. Seuss back in 1957. Very soon after the book’s release How the Grinch Stole Christmas was adapted to a movie and the story has been told and retold ever since. This parable is the perfect place for us to start our new series because unless we get rid of some of our baggage we will never be able to experience the joy of this season. There are a lot of things that hamper our ability to find peace and joy; we struggle with stress, worry, or uncertainty. But the greatest struggle we face is the problem of bitterness.
Bitterness interferes with our capacity to be thankful and when our heart is two sizes to small we lose the ability to find joy. So this morning I want us to look at the Grinch of bitterness that the Hebrew writer talks about in our text this morning found in Hebrews 12:14-15.
In the passage that was read for us this morning you will notice that in verse 14 we are told to strive for peace and holiness. With the very next breath the writer says for that to happen we must avoid bitterness or we will miss out on the grace of God. Have you ever noticed that the writer is saying that the grace of God is there and available if you want it, all you have to do take it. God’s grace is a gift that we receive freely from God and have the opportunity to share with others.
But there is a contingency clause in God’s offer of grace. We cannot have the grace of God if we have allowed bitterness to take root in our lives. The Hebrew writer knows that bitterness is a poison that will choke out everything beautiful and holy in our lives. We need to be honest enough to admit that bitterness is not something that other folks struggle with, it’s something we all struggle with. That is true for a couple of reasons.
We struggle with bitterness because people get hurt.
Bitterness is built on the foundation of hurt and pain, that’s why it’s a universal struggle. It’s impossible to live in this world around other folks and not get hurt once in a while. Jesus says in John 16:33 living in this world is plagued with times of trouble. The issue is not if we get hurt; Jesus says you can be sure that you are going to struggle and have disappointments. We just have to decide how are we going to deal with those times of pain and struggle.
My struggle with bitterness comes when I feel like I have been taken advantage of or mistreated. Someone broke a promise, cheated me, saids things about me that weren’t true, or took what was rightfully mine. We could all come up here and share a story of how someone intentionally mistreated or took advantage of us. What I have learned is that when I feel mistreated, it is usually my own fault. Let me unpack that a little.
I am not saying that we asked someone or allowed them to mistreat us. What I am saying is that we all struggle with some unrealistic expectations. In our minds we have this idea on how we should be treated, and respected, and thought about. And for a huge majority of us, that ideal is a lot better than we are willing to treat, respect, and think about others. It was devastating in my life when I realized that folks were not sitting around thinking about ways to make my life miserable. The truth is that they were not thinking about me at all. They were not intentionally mistreating me, they were being as selfish with their time and attention as I was.
It’s never just one offense either. Now that I feel slighted it’s time for me to take it to the next level and start dwelling on how poorly I was treated. It’s like I get the video pulled up on the screen of my mind and I just keep hitting repeat over and over and over and over. Every time I hit play, it just drives the hurt deeper and deeper into my mind. Because I care what you think of me, and we all care what other people think of us, I give you permission to hurt me. When I am hurt, I allow that hurt to take over my thinking and the longer I dwell the worse it gets.
Think about it this way, imagine we are all going to walk to the high school so that we can pray for the school, the students, and the staff. Before we get out of our parking lot you get a little pebble in your shoe. It’s uncomfortable at first but we are all walking towards the school and you decide you don’t want to stop the crowd and get the pebble out. So we are all walking and everyone else is unaware of the pebble, but every step you take it gets more and more tender. The small pebble in your shoe soon feels like a HUGH stone and pretty soon you cannot take another step because of the pain.
That’s exactly what bitterness does to us. We get hurt, and it’s a little hurt at first but everyone around us is going on with life as usual so we just try to keep going as well. But if we don’t stop and fix the problem a little stone turns into a big problem.
The second struggle we have with bitterness in that most people will not admit that they are bitter.
On more than one occasion I have been talking with someone and you can tell that they are hurting and that they feel mistreated. So eventually I will say something along the lines, “I can see why your feelings would be hurt, but you need to be careful about the bitterness.” And they respond “Bitter, what do you mean bitter, I’m not bitter!”
Often instead of owning our bitterness we try to avoid it. Sometimes we just outright deny we are bitter. Have you ever noticed that we deny the things about us that we don’t like? That’s not a new phenomena. After God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden they have two sons Cain and Abel. In Genesis 4 we see that the boys brought an offering to the Lord. Able’s offering was accepted while Cain’s was rejected.
Feeling mistreated, Cain gave into his anger and killed his own brother. Cain’s bitterness was so intense that ate him alive. So Cain took the first opportunity to invite Able out into the field where he killed him. A little while later God asked Cain where his brother was, and we get that great denial line: I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper? We all know, and God knew that Cain knew where Able was, but his bitterness made him deny what he had done. As long as you are living in denial there is no chance for healing or recovery.
Maybe you are better than that, maybe you don’t deny you are bitter maybe you just make excuses about it. There are times when I am struggling with hurt and bitterness and instead of addressing it I just kind of excuse it. You know it wasn’t really that bad, I should just let it go; after all that’s’ what Jesus would have done…. right?
Actually that’s not what Jesus would have done. We are pretty quick to make rules so that we don’t have to do things that are uncomfortable. It’s easier to just forgive and forget than to get uncomfortable and do the work of talking and confrontation. So we ignore the problem because the offense was so great that we can’t forgive. I mean there is no need to address the issue because I have already decided not to forgive regardless of what you say or do. That gives me some immediate relief because confrontation is painful to me.
Or I just decide that it won’t make any difference to talk about it anyway, you’re not going to change. And doesn’t the Bible say to Shake the dust from our feet. That is much more comfortable since there is no anxiety about the confrontation.
Or instead of doing the difficult work of restoration I can just wear my bitterness as a badge of honor. Do you remember the story of Naomi, in the book of Ruth? In the Hebrew culture, people’s names were a comment about their personality. The name Naomi means pleasant. But in chapter one of the book of Ruth Naomi loses her husband and her two sons. So she changes her name from pleasant Naomi to Mara, which is the Hebrew word for bitterness.
Maybe you haven’t changed your name, but have you ever thought or actually said, I am bitter and I have every right to be bitter. Do you know what they did to me? Do you know how they hurt me? Everyone would be bitter if they went through the same thing.
We forget that bitterness is a choice. Every day, every situation we come across we decide if it is going to leave us bitter or better. The choice is ours; we were created with the ability to choose, and no one can make us do anything. One of the gifts God has given us is the ability to make a choice in every situation to be bitter or better. Now I know that is easy to preach, but it is extremely difficult to practice. But it is extremely important for our well being.
Look back at our text, the Hebrew writer says: See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble. Bitterness grows up and will cause trouble in our lives. If there is a root, then there will be a fruit. The root of bitterness will produce fruit that we don’t want. Bitterness will affect every aspect of your life.
Bitterness produces physical problems. In 1963 Dr. S.I. McMillen wrote a book entitled None of These Diseases. In the book Dr. McMillen, goes back and looks at the Biblical health regulations that God imposed in the Old Testament and shows that God really knew what he was doing. He discusses circumcision, the eating of pork, among other health regulations God enforced. It is a good book if you want to see some of the practical reasons that God placed the prohibitions on the Israelites that He did.
What I found interesting is that Dr. McMillen lists over 50 diseases that are caused by bitterness. Bitterness triggers the adrenal gland to release small amounts of adrenalin that can build up as a calcium deposit in a bone joint causing arthritis. Bitterness can slow your metabolism down so your body can’t convert fat into anything usable causing weight gain. And bitterness can cause the stomach to release an over abundance of acid, causing an ulcer where the acid ate away the stomach lining. So as you can see there are personal problems associated with bitterness.
Bitterness produces social problems. The Hebrew writer says “many become defiled”. I have noticed the truth of that in my own life. When someone is bitter they tend to gripe and complain constantly. Their thoughts are consumed with the one who did me wrong. Pretty soon we are running our mouth and rallying the troops against the pepsin who made us bitter. The next thing you know you have cause a division in a whole group of people. The end result of bitterness is that friendships, businesses, marriages, and even churches get destroyed. Bitterness is a social problem.
And bitterness produces spiritual problems. We read in Deuteronomy 29:16-18: You remember how we lived in the land of Egypt and how we traveled through the lands of enemy nations as we left. You have seen their detestable practices and their idols made of wood, stone, silver, and gold. I am making this covenant with you so that no one among you—no man, woman, clan, or tribe—will turn away from the Lord our God to worship these gods of other nations, and so that no root among you bears bitter and poisonous fruit.
Bitterness might be our natural response to being mistreated. But did you notice that Moses says we need to be careful. It is the root of bitterness that causes us to walk away from God and seek out other gods. There are more people bitter and angry with God today than you can imagine. There are Critical Christians, Bitter Brothers and Sour Sisters who basically have a problem with God. That’s the reason they warm a pew. That’s why their only commitment is to show up to the building, and punch their card but never show any commitment to God or His church.
Even worse, bitterness will cause us to leave the family all together. Without connection, without folks to join us on this great adventure we are doomed for failure. There is a great example of this found in nature. Do you know that the Pine Tree has the deepest roots, it’s basically has one root and it goes straight down. Then there is the Red Wood tree that has many roots but they stay very shallow, close to the top of the ground.
Which tree do you think would hold up better in the midst of a storm? You might think the pine tree has the better chance because it is anchored deep, but that is not the case. You see even though the redwood roots are shallow they intertwine with the roots from all he other trees. So when the storm comes the deep rooted pine has to weather the storm all by itself, while the redwood can depend on others.
The same is true in our spiritual life. If we allow the root of bitterness to anchor deep in our souls then there is no way that we will ever be able to survive the storms of life. But if we can stay connected with the family of God, there will be no chance of bitterness taking root in our lives and the Grinch of bitterness won’t steal Christmas.
Church God cannot use a bitter Christian; He does not know what to do with them. If we truly desire to be the Christian we claim to be then today we must uproot bitterness, and live a life worthy of our calling. Bitterness is not a bad cold, It’s not a bad cough, it will kill you, physically and spiritually.