A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I took our three young children to the movies. They wanted to see Trolls. At the heart of the movie is a conflict between the sickly sweet Trolls and the sullen Bergens.
The premise of the movie was simple and horrifying. The Bergens believe that the only way for them to experience true happiness is by eating Trolls. So once a year, they gather around the tree in which the Trolls live and feast on them. After consuming the Trolls, the Bergens do experience happiness, but only briefly. Before long, the happiness wears off and their chronic depression and emptiness returns. They begin to long for that one day the next year when they will eat a Troll and feel happy again for a moment.
Watching our nation’s annual insanity unfold on the day that has become known as Black Friday, I was reminded strongly of this movie.
Nearly everyone has seen firsthand, or watched the videos of, crowds of shoppers pushing, shoving, and trampling one another in their mad rush to buy the latest TV, game system, or “Toy of the Season” that promises happiness but delivers emptiness.
The emptiness these things bring is evident because year after year the crowds return. And not just on the Friday we call Black. Throughout the month of December we look for that perfect gift. The one that will make the kids scream with delight, the one that will make our loved ones love us even more, the one that will perhaps, finally, bring true happiness.
But there is just one problem. Happiness isn’t found in things. That was the lesson the Grinch learned in the book by Dr. Seuss named How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He tried to stop Christmas from coming by stealing all of the things that he believed brought happiness. He stole the presents, and the food and the decorations. He scrubbed clean all the trappings of Christmas from Who-ville. But on Christmas morning, instead of despair, he encountered something else.
“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!'”
Maybe happiness…perhaps…means a little bit more than what we’ve reduced it to. You’ll never find what you’re looking for if you are looking for that thing in the wrong place. True joy, lasting happiness, isn’t found in things. It isn’t found in other people. And it isn’t even found within yourself. Lasting happiness is a gift. It is a gift given freely by God. That gift was first announced some 2,000 years ago to a group of shepherds by an angel on the hills outside of a small town called Bethlehem.
The angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
Jesus Himself put it another way. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)