(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Peace: How Christmas Changed the Grinch
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Romans 7:14-25, 1 John 1:8-2:2
In the Grinch, Dr. Seuss created a character that reminds us that there is evil in our world, and in each of our own hearts. The Grinch is fun, but evil is serious business. Paul told the Romans plainly that he found the line between good and evil cutting through his own heart. Just resolving to do better, he said, didn’t produce the results he sought. John, too, wrote about the darkness within us, and our profound need for Christ’s light in our lives.
Dr. Seuss said the Grinch most likely hated Christmas because “his heart was two sizes too small.” Jesus agreed. Ancient Jewish culture was extremely strict about purity laws, especially food laws. Jesus said it’s not what goes into a person’s body that is bad; it is what comes from within a person. The most hurtful stuff comes from inside, from the human heart.
There were no presents, no trees—but no matter. The Whos still welcomed Christmas with a song of joy. They showed the same spirit as Luke’s Christmas story, which was full of songs. Today we read of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s joy, and that of their friends and neighbors, when their miraculous boy was born. Zechariah first praised the “rising sun”—not his own son, but the saving King for whom his son would prepare the way.
Is this passage even about Christmas? Yes—if we understand that it’s about the heavenly purpose for Christmas, which was to open before us a whole different way of living. Jesus taught his followers how to live with his peace and joy. As the Whos sang in the Dr. Seuss story, “Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp….Welcome, Christmas, while we stand heart to heart, and hand in hand.”
Eventually, we all find ourselves dealing with a “grinch.” When that happens, we’re tempted to “give them a dose of their own medicine,” to be as mean (or meaner) to them as they’ve been to us. But, like the Whos who sang their joyous song rather than ranting and raging at the Grinch, Paul knew that in the end, it works out best to defeat evil with good.
The prophets promised that God can deliver us from the kind of “heart trouble” that causes us to act like grinches. Dr. Seuss wrote that when the Grinch finally “got” the meaning of Christmas, “In Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!” Jeremiah’s said that God pledged to “engrave” his instructions on each heart that’s open to God’s love. The prophet Ezekiel, in a similar image, quoted God as saying, “I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one” (Ezekiel 36:26).
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, we thank you for engraving your instructions on our hearts and look forward to ways you will continue to mold us. Enable us to live more and more in your goodness, your grace. Grow your generous spirit within us and in us an ever bigger heart, filled with gratitude for your many blessings. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Do you love all the Christmas music or does it bother you? When do you tend to enjoy the music the most and when does it tend to bother you?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
• Read Romans 7:14-25, 1 John 1:8-2:2. In his letter to the Romans, was Paul trying to duck responsibility for his own actions? Do you think he was rationalizing our evil nature, or just recognizing it? How do you feel about Paul’s comments? Are they helpful to you? How important are the comments of Paul and John to the growth of our individual faith? How often do Christians find themselves facing the same kind of dilemma that Paul described? Do most Christians KNOW they sometimes do things that are evil and sinful? Can we be honest with ourselves and with God about the flaws and struggles?
• Read Mark 7:14-23. What helps you to focus your primary energy and concern on the state of your heart, rather than on just trying to make your outward behaviors look good? We would probably all agree that the Holy Spirit can bring about significant change in us, but does significant change happen without our collaboration? What’s required of us for this change to come about? How can we help others struggling with making changes in their lives? What mistakes should we guard against when trying to help others?
• Read Luke 1:57-75. What was so significant about this baby’s birth and why were all the neighbors “filled with awe”? The baby was named John which means “graced by Yahweh”. Why were names significant to the people of that time? Do names hold any significance today? Do you find it strange that, upon his birth, the people asked what the child would be? Do we speculate about the future of babies today?
• Read Luke 6:27-36. Discuss how the first two verses could also reflect how God treats us. How do these verses reflect the “spirit of Christmas”? Jesus was teaching people how to act differently than they have acted in the past. How do we tend to act differently during the Christmas season? These verses speak to the concept of generosity. What is it that works to cause people to be more generous during Christmas? Verse 31 invokes the “Golden Rule”. In what situations do you find it hardest for you to treat others as you’d wish to be treated? How can Jesus’ teaching help you discern how to live out the Golden Rule in ways that bless others while you maintain healthy boundaries and self-care?
• Read Romans 12:14-21. Do you believe the statement, “it works out best to defeat evil with good”? Is that how you have dealt with every “grinch” in your life? What prevented you from dealing with some of them in this way? What helped you to deal with some of them in this way? Dr. Seuss wrote, “’Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more.’” How do Paul’s words remind you of the true meaning of Christmas? When have you seen enemies brought together, in your own life or in world affairs, because one side acted with kindness rather than hatred or contempt?
• Read Jeremiah 31:31-34. Jeremiah said that God pledged to “engrave” his instructions on each heart that’s open to God’s love. Has that been fulfilled today? What signs do you see of God at work in our world and in the hearts of the people of today? Where do you see signs of God at work in your life? In terms of God working in your heart and life, what do you still look forward to?
From last week: Did you honor the beginning of the Advent season by committing to some form of community service in Christ’s name? Please share with the group what you experienced and how it affected your Christmas preparations.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, December 8, 2013:
Today we turn to a film based upon a Dr. Seuss’ book by the same name, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The book was written in 1957; the animated film, 25 minutes long, was released on CBS in 1966. The book has been named as one of the top 100 picture books of all time by polls of both teachers and librarians. Every year as I was growing up we would look forward to watching this show. It showed on CBS for years, but this year ABC used it to kick off their 25 days of Christmas.
This film has become such a part of our culture that the word Grinch has become embedded in our language. I wonder if you know any Grinches? The Grinch is bitter, resentful, ungracious and unwilling to forgive. He or she assumes the worst of others. Unable to let go of hurts in the past, he chooses to fixate on them and play them over again and again in his head, and each time they become bigger and bigger.
Here’s the question I’d like us to consider for a moment: What made the Grinch the Grinch? Why did he hate the Whos in Who-ville and so resent their happiness? Many of the people I meet who are bitter or angry are so in response to hurt or pain or disappointment in their lives. For some it was a grave injustice that led them to become bitter. For others it was a lifetime of small disappointments, hurts or slights that led them to their resentment and bitterness.
Here’s what I’d like us to remember. We each have a bit of Grinch in us, and we either feed the Grinch within, or we starve it.
On Tuesday, as I was working on this sermon, I felt prompted to pick up Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. I had no idea when I did that he would die on Thursday. I’d read the book years ago and I felt that there was something I had read there that would tie into today’s message.
Long Walk to Freedom describes Nelson Mandela’s life and journey working for racial equality in South Africa. Mandela repeatedly noted in the book that he himself was a Methodist. In 1964 he was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the struggle for human rights as he sought to end apartheid. He would spend 27 years in prison, most of those on Robben Island where he spent years with pick and shovel in the mines. If anyone had a right to be filled with bitterness, resentment and hate, it would have been Nelson Mandela. Mandela once noted, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate.” Mandela refused to hate….
Paul wrote Ephesians to Christians, yet even to those who had chosen to follow Christ struggled with the things they would say to one another and the bitterness they would sometimes feel towards one another. He writes in Ephesians 4:29 and 31:
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And…put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.” We’re to leave these things behind, and in verse 32 he tells us what the life of a Christian is meant to look like: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Grinches hold on to hurts, they magnify them, they allow them to fester and to make them bitter and toxic. Our willingness to let go of the hurts, to pray for those who wrong us, to love our enemies—forgiveness—all of which is captured by the biblical word Grace—saves us.
So I’ll ask you, are you feeding the Grinch, or the person within you that God intends you to be?…
I wondered as I watched this film several times this week, how would we respond if someone broke in on Christmas Eve and stole everything under the tree, down to the food in the refrigerator? Would you still sing carols? Would you still give thanks? Could a thief stop your Christmas from coming? Or what about a Grinch, or an illness? Or some other painful or disappointing situation. Is it not the painful and disappointing situations that point us towards the real meaning of Christmas?
I thought about those who will celebrate Christmas this year having just lost a loved one, or battling illness, or unemployed. I thought about those Christians who will eat at the homeless shelter where some of you will serve, or those who for whatever reason are struggling this year. It is then that we most need the message of Christmas!…
What happens next to the Grinch, as he remembers the real meaning of Christmas, and hears the hope and love of Christ arising from the Whos down in Who-ville, is conversion. God foretold what he would do one day in the hearts of his people in Ezekiel 26:25-27: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean…I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you.” It is this kind of conversion, this heart transformation, that God wishes to do in our lives, to change us from Grinch to gracious servants of Christ.
Dr. Seuss’s book says, “And what happened then…? Well…in Who-ville they say, The Grinch’s small heart Grew three sizes that day!” This is what Christmas, the real Christmas, is meant to do….
We’ve all got a bit of the Grinch in each of us. We’ll either feed him or starve him. Which leads me once more to the words of Paul to the Ephesians: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a 1966 American animated television special directed by Chuck Jones. It is based on the homonymous children’s book by Dr. Seuss, the story of The Grinch trying to take away Christmas from the townsfolk of Whoville below his mountain hideaway. The special, which is considered a short film as it runs less than an hour, is one of the very few Christmas specials from the 1960s to still be shown regularly on television. Jones and Geisel previously worked together on the Private Snafu training cartoons during World War II.
The 26-minute short was originally telecast on CBS on December 18, 1966. CBS repeated it annually during the Christmas season until 1987. Beginning in 2006, ABC began broadcasting it annually during the Christmas season. It was eventually acquired by Turner Broadcasting System, which now shows it several times between November and December. It has since been broadcast on TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, and The WB Television Network, and ABC Family but with some scenes trimmed to fit more commercial time.
Boris Karloff, in one of his final roles, narrates the film and also provides the speaking voice of The Grinch. (The opening credits state, “The sounds of the Grinch are by Boris Karloff…And read by Boris Karloff too!”) The special was originally produced by The Cat in the Hat Productions in association with the television and animation divisions of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.
The story takes viewers inside a snowflake to Whoville, the magical land of the Whos. But high above this holiday-loving town resides the Grinch, a hateful creature with a heart three sizes too small, who hates Christmas and plots to steal it from the Whos.
Will a greedy Mayor Augustus Maywho or the seductive Martha May Whovier ruin his plans? Or will the loving little Cindy Lou Who be able to teach The Grinch the true meaning of Christmas?
The Voice cast includes June Foray as Cindy Lou Who.
This week, identify one way you’ll honor Christmas differently, to better live out Paul’s counsel that it “it works out best to defeat evil with good.” Next week, share with the group what happened to you and what you did about it.