You will recall from Dr. Suess’s holiday “horror” story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, that the devilish Grinch determined to rob Who-ville of every holiday treat. In a nefarious scheme in which the Grinch dressed as Santa himself, he moved through Who-ville taking every package, tree, ornament, and stocking.
He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise.
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”
(Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, New York: Random House, 1957.)
Part of the purpose for telling the story of Christmas is to remind us that Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Indeed, however delightful we feel about it, even as children, each year it “means a little bit more.” And no matter how many times we read the biblical account of that evening in Bethlehem, we always come away with a thought—or two—we haven’t had before.
I do not feel—or mean this to sound—like a modern-day Scrooge. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh were humbly given and appreciatively received, and so they should be, every year and always. As my wife and children can testify, no one gets more giddy about the giving and receiving of presents than I do.
But for that very reason, I, like you, need to remember the very plain scene, even the poverty, of a night devoid of tinsel or wrapping or goods of this world. Only when we see that sacred, unadorned child of our devotion—the Babe of Bethlehem—will we know why “tis the season to be jolly” and why the giving of gifts is so appropriate.
At the focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen. Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began.
It is for this baby that we shout in chorus: “Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn King! … Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth” (Hymns, no. 209).
Perhaps recalling the circumstances of that gift, of his birth, of his own childhood, perhaps remembering that purity and faith and genuine humility will be required of every celestial soul, Jesus must have said many times as he looked into the little eyes that loved him (eyes that always best saw what and who he really was), “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
Christmas, then, is for children—of all ages.