It’s that time of year again.
The time of year when artists of all disciplines go about sleepless and sick due to the overwhelming influx of high-production holiday stuff. They come from every corner – church, work, parties, shows, holiday EPs, radio overload, connecting with fans… This season may be lucrative but it definitely takes a toll. By the time we get home on the weekends the only thing left to do is doze in front of Netflix with some cookies and milk. You think Santa has it busy.
Besides us (because it’s not all about us), think about the production of Christmas festivities in every corner of society. Marketing and retail and bakeries and events and shopping lists. This season is nuts. And in the midst of it we’re expected (by ourselves and others) to make a ton of time for the social engagements in our lives, because nothing says Christmas like spending every single night with people you may or may not have seen all year. Then there’s finding the perfect gift and the perfect time to wrap the perfect gift and the perfect words to put in the perfect card to go on top of the perfect gift… And don’t forget to celebrate that huge stack of traditions – because it wouldn’t be Christmas without those.
One of our traditions is to watch yet again that classic tale of Mr. Grinch and his crusade to steal Christmas from a bunch of sanctimonious furries.
(Yes, the animated one. There is no other.)
This was the first year my two children watched it with us, and it brought a flurry of questions. Why was he always mean? How did he change? And mostly, as my 2 year old opined again and again for a week, “why’d da Squinch take da stuff, daddy?”
It brought home to me once again the value of a simple story to communicate truth. Let me be clear: by story I mean not telling only but showing. And by communicating truth I mean not hearing only but also understanding.
We tell our children all the time to be kind, but nothing drives home kindness like seeing a radical display of unkindness. We tell our children not to be selfish, and to share. But nothing hit them quite so much as the grasping, self-consumed story of this green grump trying to stop Christmas.
We tell them that our hearts are desperately wicked, and we can’t change them. But they see the Grinch’s heart change, and understand something bigger than themselves.
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
And what happened then?
Well…in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
It’s a tiny window into a big truth. Dr. Seuss could have said (not like he would have):
Because the Who’s happiness wasn’t based on a consumer mentality that we see in the larger culture today, the Grinch saw the value of community and celebration and associated happiness with something more substantial.
There’s absolutely no depth of field there, because it’s an academic rendering of a pivotal event. The rendering doesn’t do much for us, because truthfully, you just had to be there.
No, instead of stuffing his Grinchy story full of trappings and psychology, the good doctor just told a story – and dude, it’s even derivative (Charles Dickens much?) He chose a couple lines that communicate something huge. Maybe this is also why Dickens’ most ubiquitous story is one of his shortest.
What I’m getting at is this: Less is way, way more. It wasn’t until old Grinchy-pants divested the Who’s of all of the trappings of the season that he saw the truth about Christmas.
During this time of year, we might do well to pilfer our analyses, systems, and semantics and take the stories we encounter for what they’re actually worth. Big ideas like hope, peace, joy, surprise, paradox – these are all impossible to cram into an academic paper, but they fit perfectly in 15-page children’s book, or a single chapter in Luke.
I have the great privilege of producing a very large annual Christmas extravaganza every year at the beginning of December. It’s a show that I’m proud of, done with incredibly talented people. When it’s all said and done, however, my favorite event of the season is the Christmas Eve service at my church, which consists of – in entirety – Scripture read by children, five or six well-worn carols, a five-minute homily, and real candles. That’s all there is, and the place is packed for it.
It comes without orchestra, choirs, or synths. It comes without spotlights, or sound techs, or visuals. It comes without cookies and punch, or finery of any sort. It comes like a baby sleeping in a feed trough. Like the first Christmas.
God made it this way. He delights in making use of the simplest things to shine light into dark hearts: A carpenter. A thirteen-year-old girl. Uneducated shepherds. A stable. A Baby. The best gifts do come in the smallest packages, it seems.
Maybe… perhaps… we should simplify our artistic endeavors this season so that the real meaning of Christmas shines through more brightly to ourselves and those around us. Maybe we need to be artistic Grinches more often, because when it’s all said and done, what all of our souls need this season might just be Luke 2 and O Come All Ye Faithful (unaccompanied).
Because Christmas isn’t esoteric, it’s a mystery. There’s a big difference.