I cancelled Christmas.
Or at least that’s what I was accused of.
Several years ago, Christmas fell on a Sunday and I challenged our church family to spend Christmas visiting people they wouldn’t normally visit to give gifts to people they normally wouldn’t give gifts to.
Instead of coming to church that Sunday I challenged them to be the church. Jesus came to us in person. So what better way to capture the incarnation than to go to people in person.
I didn’t feel like I was canceling Christmas. I felt like I was promoting Christmas.
A week before Christmas, an 8-year-old Jesus follower in our church, named Jacob, went door to door in his neighborhood making himself available to do odd jobs. He took all the money he earned and all the money he had saved in his piggy bank and went to the mall to buy the nicest winter coat he could find.
His buddy at school stood on the playground during recess in an old over-sized sweatshirt shivering because his parents couldn’t afford to buy him a coat.
So on Christmas morning, Jacob handed his buddy a $160 North Face Coat and said, “Jesus wants me to give this to you!”
He then generously reached into his pocket and pulled out $37 and said, “This is all the money I have left and I want you to use it to buy whatever your family needs.”
Across town a 6-year-old girl named Rebecca baked brownies and stood at the entrance to the library at the University of Kentucky on Christmas morning and gave a free brownie to any college student who walked by during finals week.
“Why are you giving away free brownies to total strangers?” a Muslim student stopped and asked.
Rebecca is sassy. So she put her hand on her hip, and with a “no duh” kind of tone said, “Because Jesus wants me to. That’s why!”
Little did she know that this Muslim student had been wrestling with what he believed and had been questioning the tenants of his faith for over 2 years. Dumbfounded by her emphatic response he said, “Can I come to church with you?”
“Sure you can!” she blurted out without consulting her parents.
So here’s my favorite part–instead of bringing this PhD student into the big room with all the big people on Sunday, she took him into her children’s ministry environment where he sat on the floor and heard a lesson about Jesus’ love for Zacchaeus.
After months of sitting and listening he took a stand for Jesus and was baptized. His family told him they would kill him if they ever saw him.
As scary as that threat sounds, he’s safe.
He’s safe because he’s saved.
And all of it happened because a little girl partnered with Betty Crocker and the Holy Spirit.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
When we express the love of Jesus in simple ways, people express their need for him in beautiful ways.
I challenged our church family to go to every restaurant in town on Christmas and buy as many meals for strangers as possible and leave as many big tips as possible.
One high school student went to the bank and emptied out his savings account. He had been saving for a car. He went to the Waffle House and as he got to know his waitress, he felt like God was saying, “She needs help.”
So he ordered a $.75 cup of hot chocolate, then put $1,000 in an envelope, stuck the envelope between the salt and pepper shaker, went outside and hid in the bushes to watch her reaction. When she opened it, she put her hand over her face and started to cry. So overcome by emotion, she sat down in the booth as he ran back inside and hugged her.
He learned that she was a single mom trying to raise two teenagers by working three jobs. She and her children are now part of our church family and someday you’ll get to meet them because a high school student decided, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.”
Fifteen minutes later at the same Waffle House, another family from our church walked in and ordered breakfast. Their waiter was a struggling college student who was behind on his bills and had just been told that he would not be able to return the following semester until he paid off his debt. To make matters more frustrating, his car had broken down and he couldn’t afford to pay for the repairs, which meant he couldn’t get to and from work.
So the family went to the very same bank the high school student had gone to and the parents emptied one of their accounts and they took a check back to the restaurant. They wrote him a note that said, “We believe in you and want you to be able to pursue your dream of being an artist, so this should cover your debt and the next two years of college. We’ve also enclosed the keys to our car…it’s the blue Volvo sitting next to the newspaper stand outside…Jesus gave his life up for us, so it seems the least we could do would be to give you our car.”
And they walked home that day!
Like the Muslim student and the struggling single mom, that young waiter didn’t need much convincing to give his life to Jesus because he had seen Jesus in that family.
“The only thing that counts,” Paul writes, “is faith expressing itself in love.”
The only thing that counts?
Yes, the only thing!
On a lighter note, I recently applied for a job at the Waffle House in hopes that someone would give me a blue Volvo!
On a serious note, don’t just celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas, be Jesus to the people who live near you by expressing his love for them in simple ways.