Be a Yoda, Not a Grinch

In the next seven days, Star Wars and Christmas return, and for many, it may feel like almost too much to handle. December’s already the most anticipated month of the year with the first snowfall, the days off from work, and the time with friends and family celebrating the birth of Jesus. And then the Force decides to awaken again now.

Along with the rest of you, still filled with the galactic wonder and nostalgia of a child born in the eighties, I’m excited to see J.J. Abrams’s latest installment. But I haven’t yet. Therefore, in the words of Master Yoda, “Not if anything to say about it I have.”

Instead, inspired by the proximity to Christmas, I’m putting a light saber into the hands of the greedy Grinch and pitting him against the Star Wars hero of blockbuster past. In the end, the two may only have a green complexion in common, but comparing them really can be an exercise in treasuring the coming of Christ, and in living and serving more like him.

The Master and the Monster

Though arguably the greatest master of the Force and most skilled warrior in light saber combat, Yoda gave himself primarily to training younger Jedi, looking for every opportunity to invest in the next generation. At heart, the diminutive Jedi master was a mentor and teacher, always interjecting wisdom at critical moments. The course of history he changed, not by imposing his knowledge, power, and authority, but by going low to see others succeed and receive the recognition.

Dr. Seuss’s taller and more infamous green character acts the foil. As he watched all the Whos celebrate and decorate with his grumpy, anti-holiday spirit and green with envy, he hated them, especially the loud sounds of their happiness. “Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! NOISE!” The most offensive sound of all was the sound of their singing at Christmas. Instead of joining in, he plotted to spoil their joy.

He slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and took every present!

He robbed them of stockings, gifts, and lights, and even stole the Who-hash and delicious roast beast. He took everything, down to the very last crumb, even stooping low enough to lie to little Cindy-Lou Who. Instead of giving, he stole. Instead of helping others develop their strengths and gifts, he imposed his weaknesses. Instead of serving, he schemed.

It should make us ask, Who am I this Christmas? Here are three diagnostic questions to help us see what gnarly shade of green we are — the generous or the selfish, the humble or the spiteful, the courageous or fearful? The hope is that you’ll be a Yoda, not a Grinch.

1. Do the people closest to you consider you to be surprisingly generous or cautiously self-preserving?

The Grinch’s small heart and empty hands sent him down the mountain to grab all he could. The stealing is despicable, but more pitiable is the joylessness that fueled his makeshift sleigh. In his discontentment, he could not bear to watch others rejoice. Can you? In the things you’re suffering this year, have you lost the ability to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15)?

May we, instead, love like the poor and hurting Christians in the churches of Macedonia. Even “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2). All their circumstances said sorrow and self-preservation, but their generosity screamed hope and joy. True joy, the kind that holds up in any circumstance and that lasts forever, flourishes in watching others flourish. It will not let what it does not have keep it from rejoicing in God’s grace to others.

2. Do the people around you grow in their gifts because of your influence?

The idea of discipleship drips with inefficiency. Why would I spend time training someone else to do something I could do myself in half the time? Yoda confronts that prevalent, yet ignorant intuition with these words, “Always pass on what you have learned.” Take the time required to make sure someone else sees what you see, that they can do what you do with you, even better than you, and after you’re gone.

It’s a pivotal principle for Christian life and ministry: as we give what’s ours — money, time, wisdom — to serve others, we know and feel more of what Christ has given us in full forever by serving us on the cross. Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He taught us this with his perfect divine example. Investing in a few disciples was the chosen strategy for bringing the gospel to the world and establishing an everlasting kingdom. Two thousand years later, his church has canvased the globe, and his words are cherished and rehearsed more than ever.

3. Are you so afraid of losing what you have in this life that it makes you ineffective in this life?

The Grinch grabs and grabs to try and satisfy deep cravings inside, not necessarily by having more, but by dragging others into his misery. Yoda says to the vulnerable Anakin Skywalker, “The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” It’s his long-eared, unfortunately-Buddhist-sounding take on an unbelievably Christian truth.

Fear enslaves everyone in the world, specifically a fear of loss, and therefore especially the fear of death, the loss of all things (Hebrews 2:15). The pathway to real life and joy is liberation from fear — not with some abstract, deep-breathing, Jedi mind trick, but through the real, tangible, bloody, atoning work of Christ. “Through death [Jesus destroyed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver[ed] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14–15).

“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). We don’t have to grab for ourselves now, or try to drag anyone else into our fear or misery, or attempt desperate measures to protect our seventy or eighty years in this life. No, because of Christ, we’ve been freed to serve, give, and invest in radical ways — to be poor and pitied now for the sake of others — while we wait for our inheritance to come in full in eternity.

So, to those rushing to the theaters this week, we say with Master Yoda, in some sense anyway, “May the Force be with you.” May the movie be another means of looking to the realities of good and evil, of appreciating the epic story of history in which God sends his own Warrior into the world to save sinners.

And for all of us, Star Wars fans or not, may the days leading up to this Christmas be filled with fresh reminders of all that this Son is for us, and may they sound a new call to live, serve, and give in ways that display his worth and work.