What to Do With Christmas Leftovers

December 26, 1999 / John 1:14

When I announced my sermon title for today, someone here must have sent an e-mail to Martha Stewart. When she got it, she apparently turned right around and Fed Exed me a copy of her latest Christmas book. With it, she included some ideas of what to do with Christmas leftovers ó that her publisher decided to omit from the book.

Blanch the carcass from your Thanksgiving turkey. Spray paint it gold, turn it upside down, and let it be a holder for all your Christmas cards.
Old telephone books make ideal personal address books. Simply cross out the names and addresses of people you donít know.
Too rushed to take an invigorating shower? Wrap yourself in masking tape. Peeling it off both gets you clean and leaves you feeling rejuvenated.
Fool people into thinking you got a digital phone from Santa by holding an old TV or video remote to your ear and occasionally swerving across the road and mounting the curb.
Martha misunderstood the thrust of todayís sermon! But I surely want to thank her for the outstanding and creative things she shared. Like me, youíre probably astounded that her publisher would cut such ingenious things from her manuscript. We writers have a hard time with the people who actually make the decisions about what rolls through the presses.

The Christmas "leftovers" I have in mind are neither trashed wrapping paper and ribbon nor picked-over food. Instead, Iím referring to the leftover benevolence and focus on Jesus that come with this season of the year. Christmas touches the deepest, warmest, and best feelings in the human heart. Kindness. Compassion. Love for children. Concern for the homeless. Family togetherness. Understanding. Sacrifice for othersí happiness.

What should we do with the remnants of the special atmosphere we created? The goodwill, the peace, the joy ó does anything remain of them? Or were they just traditional words used during the season?

Basic Kindness

Letís start with Christmas kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness. It allowed you to be tolerant of a non-favorite relative and to yield to someone at a busy intersection with a smile on your face. Nashville made headlines nationally on December 16 when Judge Mark Fishburn dismissed traffic charges if the accused sang Jingle Bells. There was no fine or safe-driving classes if they sang out loud in traffic court!

"It was a spur-of-the-moment thing," he said. "Everybody seemed to be in a festive mood. I turned to the audience and asked them if they were really in the Christmas spirit." No charges were dropped unless the arresting officer consented. And he did convict a few people ó including two teenage boys who were going 80 in a 45-mph zone.

By the way, one woman arrived late. Everyone else had sung the carol in a "courtroom choir" setting. When the judge offered her the same deal for singing solo, she said she would be better off paying the fine! He dropped her turn-signal and registration violations anyway.

Now thatís the spirit of Christmas. You witnessed it somewhere too. You got to leave work early on the final workday. A clerk was extra kind to help you find something. A stranger picked up something you dropped ó and smiled at you.

Do we have to wait until next December to make these things the order of the day again? You probably have to work with somebody who is obnoxious and pushy. Why not take your leftover Christmas kindness and dole it out over the next few weeks? It could make a difference. At the very least, youíll have fun making that soul wonder whatís happening!

These verses are good all year round, not just at Christmas:

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12).

"Therefore, as Godís chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Col. 3:12-14).

"Donít push your way to the front; donít sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Donít be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand" (Phil. 2:3-4, The Message).

Attention to Children and the Elderly

There is also the possibility that some of us will carry some leftover attention to children and concern for the protection of elderly people into our everyday routines.

Oh, I know this time of the year has been hard on the kids. Some of them were fussy all day yesterday because they lost so much sleep in the excitement of waiting for Santa. Some of them didnít react the way their parents wanted them to when a "special" gift was opened. And some of the older ones will try your patience in getting back into a routine once the Christmas break is over. But thatís why God made you necessary to getting them here in the first place. Right?

I read of one store manager who observed a woman in the grocery store with a three-year-old girl seated in her shopping cart. As they passed the cooky aisle, the little girl asked for some of the colorful Christmas cookies and her mother refused. The little girl began to whine and fuss, and the mother said ever so quietly, "Now, Ellen, we just have half of the aisles left. Donít be upset. It wonít be long."

Soon they were on the candy aisle, and this time the little girl began to shout for some. When her mom told her she couldnít have any, she began to cry ó loudly. The mother said, "There, there, Ellen. Donít cry. Only two more aisles to go, and then weíll be checking out."

When they finally made it to the check-out stand, the little girl immediately began to ask for gum and burst into a tantrum when she discovered none was going to be bought. The mother patiently and softly said, "Ellen, weíll be through this check-out stand in five minutes. Then you can go home and have a nice nap."

The store manager followed them out to the parking lot and stopped the woman to compliment her. "I couldnít help noticing how patient you were with little Ellen," he started. Whereupon the mother said, "Iím Ellen. My little girlís name is Rebecca."

Children do need extra patience, extra attention, extra understanding. They arenít adults and donít have enough information about life to know what to do with it. And it hurts me more than I can tell you to read about child abuse and abandonment. Babies need to be loved. Small children need to be affirmed within their boundaries. And older children need role models close at hand ó daddy, mommy, and the people these two adults allow to be around them.

Screeching at kids should be outlawed. Belittling them should be a crime. Discipline through shaming or humiliating children is unworthy of any responsible adult ó much less a Christian parent.

Elderly people need some respect and consideration as well. Please donít use the upper level of our back parking lot that is nearest this worship all if you are not a Senior Saint. Maybe we need bigger signs, but Iíve seen an occasional thirty-something parking where we intend for elderly and handicapped to be! Teach your children and our young people in this church to show special courtesies to our older members in such simple things as allowing them to go through doors first or helping them find seats.

These verses from Scripture are good in the "off season" from Christmas:

"Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused . . ." (Ex. 22:22-24a).

"The King will reply, ĎI tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for meí" (Matt. 25:40).

Speaking Easily and Naturally of Jesus

Finally, Christmas has allowed us to speak frequently, easily, and naturally of Jesus to one another. Letís hang onto that pattern of behavior.

A few years back, I was bothered enough by some of the court, school, and other public decisions about the "secularization" of Christmas that I took a shot at writing the sort of mongrelized Christmas Story that I could imagine being told somewhere down the line. Do you think it could ever sound like this?

Joseph came, with Mary his wife, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They were riding in a sleigh, pulled by eight tiny reindeer. They were in Bethlehem because the holiday markdowns there were greater than anywhere else in the Holy Land. Joseph went to the Holiday Inn to find Santa, only to be told that his reservation had been preempted by Ebenezer Scrooge and that he and his wife would have to stay down the street at the motel with a Frosty the Snowman logo. While they were there, a baby was born. Mary slept late the next day, until the Little Drummer Boy awakened her with his pa-rum-pa-pa-pum. So donít forget the true message of Christmas: carpe diem and e pluribus unum to all ó and to all a good night.

The more Iíve thought about it, though, it has been a good thing for public institutions to pull away from telling the Christmas Story. It never was the job of the government or our public schools to teach the gospel. Thatís our job as the people of God. And we have done a good job of it this Christmas ó from childrenís classes to an all-church musical and Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. More important than all these, however, is that you have told the story in your homes to your children and your grandchildren.

The nativity scenes in your homes have been natural teaching devices. Youíve read Bible story books and shown the Veggie Tales video about "The Toy That Saved Christmas." You reminded your family of the virgin, angels, Joseph, and shepherds. In the days, weeks, and months to come until we begin this intense cycle again, keep the book of Bible stories close at hand. Talk with your children about what they are learning in Kids Kommunity. Theyíll be glad to teach you the songs!

We adults have had an easier time talking about Jesus to one another too. We have talked about the spirit of Christmas and the Spirit of Christmas. We have prayed for Jesus to be Immanuel ó God with us. And we have refocused some things in our lives and families. Donít let that end with the day just gone! Carry the leftovers and outworkings of it into every day God grants you to live yet upon Planet Earth!

This text is good for the entire year: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).


What we have just lived through is too precious and wonderful to confine it to that period of the year between Thanksgiving Day and December 25. So take the scraps left from yesterday and use them to mark out a lifestyle for the coming year.

Put a mayonnaise jar in your kitchen and make it your "Christmas Club Account" for 2000. Just put a couple of dollars a week into it, or empty your change into it every night you eat together as a family. Use the money next Christmas for children whose names will be on our Christmas Wish Tree in the foyer. Every time you drop in a penny, quarter, or $5-dollar bill, everyone at your table will get a little tickle of the Christmas spirit.

Adopt one of our missionaries or missionary families. Do something special for them on the 25th day of each moth. Send photos you make around our building on the Sunday before. Send pictures of yourself and your family. Compose something for them on your computer, and send it by e-mail. Be creative! Youíll feel a "Christmas rush" every month as you do something for them on the 25th!

Pick someone who is shut-in or in a nursing home and do something special for that man or woman on the 25th day of each month. A personal visit, lunch together, an anonymous gift, a beautiful plant ó just let the 25th day of the month be your target date each time, and imagine it as a "Christmas-All-Year-Long Project."

Design your own project! Let a different member of your own family be the focus of your attention each month. Let it be the sourest person in your office. It doesnít matter. The important thing is to hold the spirit of Christmas alive not only in memory but in overflowing goodwill and love during the entire year.

Some anonymous writer put it this way: "Christmas is not merely a lump of sugar to take away the sour taste of reality. Christmas is reality: a reality which will blaze eternally after manís last artificial light flickers out. If we unite ourselves with that reality, we will be given the courage to live joyously in the new year."

Iíve been doing this since Christmas of 1990. I wonít tell you what my past projects have been or what this yearís Christmas venture will be. Itís my secret ó for now. But anytime during the month of December 2000 that you want to tell me what you did with this yearís "Christmas leftovers," Iíll be more than pleased to let you in on how my project for the year works out.


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