Many notorious heists have captured the public’s imagination over the years.
The Brinks Job, The Great Train Robbery, and The Gardner Museum Art Heist, to name a few.
But none of these were as daring or as infamous as Dr. Suess’ story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
As you might recall, the Grinch’s motive for stealing Christmas was not greed and his objective was not to get rich.
It was that his heart was two sizes too small.
He just could not tolerate another December in Whoville filled with all the annoying decorating and singing and gift-giving that drove him crazy.
The Grinch imagined that he could get rid of Christmas by plundering Whoville of its presents and Christmas trees and holiday feasts.
As with most great robberies, the Grinch’s Christmas caper hinged on an ingenious plan and cunning
deception to succeed.
The Grinch made himself a Santa suit and a sleigh and tied antlers on his dog’s head to break and enter
the homes of Whoville on Christmas Eve.
And despite almost having his cover blown by Little Cindy Lou Who, who was no more than two, the
Grinch’s scheme went off like clockwork.
As we all know, though, his plot ultimately failed.
In the end, the Grinch discovered that Christmas couldn’t be stolen because Christmas is more than gifts
and lights and feasts of roast beast.
And the one thing he couldn’t rob the Whos of was the very thing he most despised them for — their
Having read the book, seen the movie and watched the TV special over and over, I have reached an
informed opinion that the Grinch’s big mistake was overthinking the problem.
To borrow from Dr. Seuss’ style of stating things: If squelching the Who’s Spirit was the Grinch’s true
aim, then stealing Pentecost – not Christmas – was the name of the game.
How, you may ask, would stealing Pentecost get rid of Christmas?
The answer to that question goes back to the events of that very first Pentecost in Jerusalem so long
Pentecost is commonly considered to be the day the Church was born.
It says in the first chapter of Acts, before the day of Pentecost, that the disciples were in Jerusalem
worshipping and devoting themselves to prayer.
They were, in other words, sort of… a church.
But they were a church in a “holding pattern.”
They weren’t going anywhere, yet.
And it’s likely that they never would have – if Pentecost never happened.
You get the sense that the character of their community was shaped by caution and fear of taking risks.
They weren’t bothering anybody, and so nobody was bothering with them.
One of the last times the disciples saw Jesus, he told them that after he was gone he was counting on
them to continue to do the things he had been doing.
In fact, he told them that they would actually do GREATER things than he had done.
He said they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Which must have sounded pretty incredible to them because they had seen Jesus do some amazing
Things they knew they weren’t capable of doing without him.
You might say that the disciples’ hearts were two sizes too small to hold the courage necessary to fulfill
Jesus’ expectations of them.
They knew it. And Jesus knew it.
So he told them to wait until God sent them the Holy Spirit, who would give them the power to do what
Jesus was relying on them to do.
On the day of the Jewish Festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit showed up in Jerusalem.
It filled the room where believers were meeting with a sound like a rushing wind and with so much
energy that it was as if the very air around them burst into flames.
What changed with Pentecost, was that this wallflower church literally threw caution to the winds, flung
open its doors, and made the world sit up and take notice.
These not-very-well-educated Galileans amazed everyone by suddenly being able to speak in all of the
languages spoken by the visitors from every corner of the known world who were in the city that day.
Verse 4 of the second chapter of Acts says,
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages” –
and here’s the most important part –“AS THE SPIRIT GAVE THEM ABILITY.”
The Holy Spirit gave them the ability, the wisdom, the courage and whatever else they didn’t have — but
that they needed — to be the Church Jesus called them to be.
Dr. Seuss might have said that the disciples’ hearts grew three sizes that day.
So, suppose the Grinch stole Pentecost.
Suppose he could have prevented the Holy Spirit from turning a band of underqualified-for-the-job
disciples into a church that would carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth and down through the ages.
They would have never had the ability to witness to the world about Jesus.
The Gospel would have flickered and died with them, instead of catching fire.
They would never have come close to doing the things Jesus did, let alone do greater things than he had
If there had not been Pentecost there would have been no Church to preach and live the Good News
about grace and forgiveness, about peace and justice, about faith and hope and love.
There would have been none of the stuff that only happens through an inspiration, vision, courage,
perseverance and sacrifice that most of us don’t come by without God’s help.
By the way, there would have been no Christmas.
The Grinch would have accomplished what he set out to do.
There were Grinchs around on that first Pentecost.
Scoffers who tried to dismiss what was happening by sneering and calling the disciples a bunch of
But Peter and the disciples were past the point now of letting fear of people’s opinions hold them back.
The Apostle Paul would one day warn the believers in ancient Rome that there were two ways they
could think of themselves..
They could see themselves as led by a spirit of fear that kept them enslaved by their human limitations.
Or they could be led by the Spirit of God, who would reveal to them all the potential that was theirs as
children of God.
Being the church is not for the faint-hearted.
What is asked is usually above and beyond what we might believe is possible for us to do on our own.
So, it’s important to remember what Pentecost tells us.
Which is that we are not on our own.
That is precisely what the Sacrament of Baptism reminds us.
When we baptize someone as we did today, parents, sponsors and church make promises that we will
be witnesses to the love of Christ for the benefit of the person being baptized.
Which, we know deep down are promises we can’t possibly keep unless the Spirit gives us the ability.
That is why those promises are made with the qualifier that we can only keep them by relying on the
help God gives us.
It’s the reason we baptize — not just with water– but with water and the Spirit.
So, let us never be held captive to the spirit of fear that keeps us from believing ourselves to be the
beloved children of God who are called and equipped to turn the world upside down.
In the end, even the Grinch knew better than that.