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Cleaning Fit for a King


Repulsed by the Christmas celebrations in neighboring Whoville, the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas sets out to stop the holiday from coming. He sneaks into the town late at night and steals the many trappings that seem so essential to Christmas—presents, decorations, candy, and festive food.

Had they known Dr. Seuss’s story, the chief priests and teachers of the law who confronted Jesus may well have thought Him a Grinch. Only a week before the Passover, the biggest festival of the year, He entered the temple courts and purged them of the trappings many would have thought were essential to the holiday. During the Passover, pilgrims by the thousands would flood to Jerusalem where, aided by the services of moneychangers and animal vendors, they paid their temple dues and offered sacrifices. By driving “out all who were buying and selling there” (v. 12) and overturning the tables, Jesus drove a spoke into the gears of the holiday machine.

In the Seuss tale, the Grinch found a deeper significance to Christmas when those in Whoville celebrated even “without packages, boxes, or bags.” On that ancient Passover, Jesus Himself embodied the deeper meaning of the holiday. Already, Jesus had twice quoted God’s declaration in Hosea: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). After cleansing the temple from the abuses of the sacrificial system that were perpetrated on the poor, Jesus then enacted the mercy of God, healing the blind and lame (v. 14).

That mercy is the central reality of the Passover, which commemorates God’s liberation of the Israelites. And it is the central reality of Christmas, in which we celebrate the birth of God’s Son, who liberates us from our sin.

Apply the Word

To what are you devoting your time and energy in these days leading up to Christmas? Are “the packages, boxes, and bags” diverting your attention from the holiday’s true meaning? In your pursuit of the celebration, are you taking advantage of others? How might you reflect on and more fully appreciate the mercy and love of God this season?

BY Brad Burton

Brad Burton has taught theology and ethics at several theological schools across the country. His writing and teaching focus on the role of the church in helping Christians to proclaim and live the faith. He serves the church in lay ministry and supply preaching, and he enjoys hiking and cycling with his wife and two children.

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