Advent Movie Series: How the Grinch Stole Christmas – 1 John 4:7-11
1 John 4:7-11
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
C.S. Lewis wrote the seminal book on the concept of love in his work, The Four Loves. In it, he identified four distinct aspects of love: affection, friendship, erotic love, and divine unconditional love. As you might expect, C.S. Lewis champions divine love as the love that exceeds all others, namely for its power to transform one’s self into the image of God.
It is this divine unconditional love that Franciscan Father Richard Rohr is addressing when he writes, “There’s no other way you can know who God is, and who you are, but to love….God is not saying, ‘I demand this of you.’ Rather, God is saying, ‘I invite you into this mystery of who you already are in me.’ Love is not something you decide to do now and then. Love is who you are! Your basic, foundational existence—created in the image of the Trinity—is love. Remember, Trinity is saying that God is not an isolated divine being; God is a quality of relationship itself, an event of communion, an infinite flow of outpouring. God is an action more than a substance, to put it succinctly.”*
I thought briefly about selecting the holiday-themed film, Love Actually, as my subject for this evening. However, as much as I enjoy this movie in all its cheesy British-humor goodness, I couldn’t recall anything powerful about its depictions of love. It is full of uplifting depictions of affection, friendship, and romantic love, but offers little in the way of divine unconditional transformative love.
I did, however, find divine unconditional love portrayed in the 1966 program How the Grinch Stole Christmas, based on the book by Dr. Seuss. In case you haven’t seen this, or if it’s been a while, I’ll briefly set up the story.
A creature called the Grinch lives far enough away from the happy village of Whoville (home of the Whos) that he is not a part of that community. He is close enough, however, to hear all the noise they make, particularly around Christmas time. He resolves to ruin the Whos’ Christmas by sneaking in on Christmas Eve and stealing all their trees, decorations, musical instruments, food, and toys.
This is where our clip begins.
Hopefully you see the story of the Grinch as a wonderful example of the power of love to transform one’s self. There is beauty in the Whos lovingly welcoming the Grinch into their community. There is beauty in the Grinch’s literal change of heart. But what struck me (on this, what I can only assume is my eightieth time watching this movie) is what happened to allow love into the Grinch’s heart: he listened.
Recall the image of the Grinch putting his hand to his ear, expecting to hear the groans, angst, and disappointment of the Whos mourning the absence of everything they no longer have. Instead, however, the Grinch hears the unexpected sound of joyful singing.
This is not a new sound that the Grinch is hearing. After all, it was the joyful singing that he refers to as “noise” early on. But for the first time he listens instead of merely hears.
You know the difference between hearing and listening, right? Hearing is what we refer to when we acknowledge the sounds coming in our ears. But listening is a whole-body experience where the sounds serves to create relationship. You don’t just hear your favorite song, you listen to your favorite song. You don’t just hear the person tell you they love you; you listen to the person tell you they love you.
And even though it was a cold-hearted impulse that led the Grinch to listen, he listened nonetheless. In listening he was revealed a truth about life that introduced the concept of love into his heart.
The importance of listening in this day and age cannot be overstated. In a world where we are bombarded with noise, it is increasingly difficult to listen to what is actually true. In a world that can seem so polarized, angry, and isolated, the call to listen to others remains critical. In a world that spends millions of dollars convincing you who you are and what you need to buy in order to be happy, God calls us to listen to the voice of God animating each one of us – the voice that tells us we are loved; the voice that tell us we are called and capable of sharing that love with others.
So, to conclude, I would like to invite you into a spiritual practice of listening.
For a couple of minutes I invite you to take a comfortable posture and sit in silence.
As you find a comfortable position on your chair, close your eyes. Begin to focus around your chest area, your “heart center.” Breathe in and out from that area, as if you are breathing from the heart center and as if all experience is happening from there. Anchor your mindfulness only on the sensations at your heart center, focusing on your breath.
Continuing to breathe in and out, think this phrase several times: “God is love and God is here.”
Repeat this phrase in the hopes that this will eliminate all other noises.
Listen to the truth that God is love and God is here.
Next, think of a person who most invites the feeling of pure unconditional divine love. Perhaps someone you consider a mentor. It might be a parent, grandparent, teacher, someone toward whom it takes no effort to feel respect and reverence, someone who immediately elicits the feeling of care. Repeat the phrases for this person: “God is love and God is here.”
Continuing to breathe out of your heart’s center, think of a person you regard as a dear friend and repeat the phrase: “God is love and God is here.”
Now think of a neutral person, someone for whom you feel neither strong like nor dislike. As you repeat the phrase, allow yourself to feel tenderness, loving care for their welfare.
Now move to someone you have difficulty with–hostile feelings, resentments. With this person in mind, repeat the phrase: “God is love and God is here.”
Let this phrase spread through your whole body, mind, and heart.
Stay in touch with the ember of warm, tender loving-kindness at the center of your being as you slowly begin to draw awareness back to the rest of your body, your chair, and the room around you.
In closing I return to the words of Richard Rohr,
“Jesus says, ‘I’ll be with you only a little while longer. So I’m going to leave a sign that I’m still here. I’m going to reveal myself in the presence of loving people.’ That’s the only way anyone can know God. If you’ve never let anyone love you, if you’ve never let love flow through you—gratuitously, generously, undeservedly—toward other people, you can’t possibly know who God is. God is just a theory or abstraction. But ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). And those who live in love live in God and know God experientially.”*
God is love and God is here. Amen.
* “Disciples: Those Who Love Others.” Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation (Tuesday, December 20, 2016)
Meditation adapted from “Loving-Kindness Meditation” from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. (http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree/loving-kindness)