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Merry Tifton

In the midst of our celebration, Jesus is trying to give us what we really need.


Once upon a time, long ago and far away in a strange land, there lived a man by the name of John Baresford Tifton—a man of incredible wealth beyond the furthest dreams of human avarice—who had the strange habit of bequeathing a million dollars to individuals of his inscrutable choice. His associate, Michael Anthony, replete with briefcase, umbrella, and hat, made his way to the objects of this munificence and bestowed upon them the gift from their great benefactor. Of course, their lives were transformed. At first there were just a few, but soon there were dozens, scores, hundreds, and finally thousands of people in his land and in lands around the world.

At his death, Mr. Tifton left explicit instructions in his will that from the incalculable holdings of his vast estate, this practice was to be continued down through the years. So it came to be that, all over this Earth, there were those who had their circumstances unbelievably transformed, as they were suddenly catapulted into the rarefied atmosphere of the millionaires who received the gift.

Now it came to pass as the centuries went by, that these people (who had also received his name, because he had adopted them into his family and had granted them other perquisites as well) decided it would be well if they would get together occasionally—because they did have so much in common now. It would be especially good if they had a celebration of the birth of their great benefactor.

So they celebrated. Of course, it's obvious that the only people who had the slightest interest in celebrating the birth of Mr. Tifton were those who had received his gift. They were virtually a club for millionaires.

As the years went by and the celebrations continued, there were essays written about Mr. Tifton's great character and benevolence. There were hymns written and sung to his praise. There were pictures drawn and many other ways devised to celebrate the memory of this man who had altered so many lives by his gift.

In the process of time—sad to say, it happened in America—at one of the celebrations of Mr. Tifton's birth, a couple of people (who not only had not received the gift but didn't have the foggiest idea that such a gift even existed) somehow wandered into a Tifton birthday celebration. You know how Americans are about crashing parties. This couple didn't quite grasp what was going on, but they did pick up the idea that somebody had given some wonderful gifts to these people who were celebrating.

Although the couple didn't understand at all, they did think it sounded like a good idea, so they told their friends, and they told their friends, and they told their friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. And believe it or not, the idea spread. Before long, almost everybody was celebrating Tifton Day.

The department stores even picked up the idea. (They had a keen eye for that sort of thing.) Before you know it, there were Tifton specials all over the place. And other things arose. There was the Tifton card, of course, and then came the Tifton tree. Strange to say, the tree didn't even grow in the land where Mr. Tifton was born. You may not believe this, but it is actually true that in time Tifton Day became a national holiday. Everybody was celebrating.

In Search of the True Tifton Day

One day years later, on Tifton Eve, two gentlemen who had been recipients of the Tifton gift happened to land in New York Harbor. As they walked down the gangplank, one of them said, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could find someone in America who is a Tifton recipient? We could celebrate tomorrow on the birthday of our benefactor."

The other said, "Ah, yes, but in such a large land as this, it's highly unlikely that in so short a period of time, we should be so fortunate."

To their utter amazement, as they walked down the street and looked into the window of the first department store that caught their eye, there was a sign shouting out, ONLY ONE MORE DAY UNTIL TIFTON! And in the next window, TIFTON SPECIALS: HALF OFF.

The two men said to each other, "Ah, we are in luck. We have found a Tifton. But isn't it strange that he calls himself Macy? Well, these Americans are an odd lot." They started into the store to find the owner, when across the street they heard someone cry, "Merry Tifton!" Startled, they turned. Then from their own side of the street came a chorus of voices all around them saying, "Merry Tifton and a Happy New Year." With that they were absolutely dumbfounded.

"Certainly," they said, "Mr. Tifton has been very prodigal with his gifts in America, unlike anything we have ever seen in his own land."

It came to pass in the providence of God that, in the evening, they found themselves invited into a large home where there was in progress another American innovation, a Tifton Eve cocktail party, in full swing. They noticed as they were standing in the corner that some of these people were absolutely falling-down drunk, which they thought very strange, because they were quite confident that Mr. Tifton would not approve of that sort of conduct, and they could not see how this would be honoring to his memory.

One of them said to the other, "My dear brother, this afternoon on the street when all of those people were shouting, 'Merry Tifton,' did you notice the way some of them were dressed?"

"Why yes, I did. I didn't want to say anything, but surely they did not look like millionaires to me."

"That's just what I thought. I can't understand it. Have you noticed here on the mantelpiece all of these Tifton cards? I've just been looking at them, and the thing that absolutely astounds me, and I find it completely baffling, is the fact that most of them don't say anything at all about Mr. Tifton. In fact, they have this picture of this fat man in this green suit in a chariot drawn by eight reindeer, one of which has a very bright nose."

The other man said, "Oh yes, I noticed that. I inquired about it, and it seems that this is some character they have invented. His name, I believe, is Surper. Yes, St. Surper. I think his first name is Uriah. I believe they call him simply by his initial, uh, U. Surper. St. U. Surper, I believe, is the full name. It seems that so many of their Tifton songs are not about Tifton but about Mr. U. Surper. I find this very difficult to understand. Perhaps one of these people here at the party could enlighten us."

And so they turned to the man who was closest to them and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Tifton."

The fellow looked at them and said, "You must be tipsier than I am. Mike's the name—Michael Mythology. What can I do for you?"

They said, "Would you kindly explain something to us, sir? We're a little bit confused. I do suppose that you have received the million dollars."

"The what?"

"The million dollars? The gift from Mr. Tifton?"

"A million dollars? Man," he said, "I had to borrow three hundred dollars from the finance company to buy my Tifton gifts this year! What are you talking about?"

They said, "Well, why are you celebrating Tifton Day? What is it all about?"

"Oh ho!" he said. "Well, that's easy. You understand that there was this fellow, they say, named Tifton, who had a way of giving presents to people. I don't know what they were—ties, neckties, handkerchiefs, pajamas, that sort of thing. And, uh, of course, uh, some people think that he really lived, but we, in our sophisticated, modern world know that it's all a myth. Nevertheless, it is a nice idea. We picked up the idea and we give gifts and we sort of change it around a little bit. But that's basically the idea. You don't really think there's anything to that old idea that he really lived and actually gave some important gifts to people? Of course we don't, but it is nice."

"Yes," said the visitors, "I can see from that purple tie with the orange stripes you're wearing that this is a very significant day in your life." Mike staggered away, leaving them even more baffled than before.

They said to another gentleman, "Sir, could you please help us? Could you tell us, have you received the gift of a million dollars?"

"Huh?" he said, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!"

They said, "Tell us, Sir, why do you celebrate Tifton Day?"

He said to them, "Well, that's an absurd question. Everybody celebrates Tifton Day. When I was just a child, I used to hang my Tifton stocking on the mantelpiece. My parents and my grandparents celebrated Tifton Day. Everybody celebrates Tifton Day. What's wrong with you foreigners coming over here questioning our customs?" And he sort of wandered away.

The two still could not understand. They decided they should make one last effort. Having talked to this gentleman, Mr. Traditional, and not getting much help, they asked one other man who introduced himself as Mr. Bootstraps. "Benny Bootstraps," he said his name was, and he'd be glad to help them. Sure, he could explain the meaning of Tifton Day.

"Well, you see there was this fellow named Tifton; started out very poor, I understand. His whole life was written up in a big, black book. Most of us have them, but nobody reads it much anymore. Anyway, it tells the principles of success he used to make a million. The idea is that we will read that book and follow those principles so we can become rich, too. I think that's the basic idea that's found in the book. You know, sort of reach down and give yourself a good tug."

They said, "What about the gift?"

Mr. Bootstraps says, "What gift is that?"

About that time, there was a knock at the door. And when no one answered, the door opened, and there appeared the perennial descendant of Michael Anthony, umbrella under his arm and briefcase in his hand. Our two faraway friends were delighted to see that here at least at this party someone was going to receive the gift. And since no one paid him any mind, Mr. Anthony said, "Excuse me." Still, no one heard him over the laughter and the hubbub of the party and the tinkling of glasses.

Mr. Anthony spoke again, "I beg your pardon, but I have here with me—" His voice was drowned out. He made one more effort, and then disgusted, he turned and left, closing the door behind him. No one had seen him come. No one listened to his voice. No one received the gift.


That is my modern parable of Christmas. I wonder how many here this Christmas Day, having ripped off all the ribbons, torn off the wrappings, and opened all of the boxes, will find that something is still lacking. What has not been filled is their soul. There is still an emptiness in their unsatisfied hearts. Something is still missing.

I wonder how many of you have received the gift. I wonder how many of you have heard the voice. When the Christmas music is over, the carols have ended, and the last strains have faded away, I wonder how many of you will be left with the same silent emptiness you had before. I wonder how many of you have received the gift.

I wonder, most tragically of all, if there are those in our midst today, in this so-called Christian nation, who are so spiritually blind they do not even know what the gift is?

Our parable has a text, and it is this: "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!" Do you have the gift, my friend, or are you here today a spiritual pauper in the midst of millionaires?

What is the gift? If you do not know, God's Word tells us: "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Have you received that gift? If you have received it, then you know it. If you do not know it, it is because you have not received it. Do you know for sure that you are on your way to Paradise? When you leave this life, will you be with Christ forever? Do you have that ironclad assurance and certainty?

If not, then, my friend, you are still a pauper. I have good news—there stands at the door today one who offers to us that gift and declares, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock, and if any man hear my voice and open the door to his heart, I will come into him and sup with him."

This is a gift that was not paid for with paltry cash in a department store. It was paid for with the precious blood of Christ on Calvary at infinite cost. Having taken upon himself our guilt and sin, he endured the wrath of his Father in our place, so that we might be freely forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life. If you have received that gift, then this Christmastime you're saying with the apostle, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift."

If you have not received the gift, then you can receive it today by placing your trust in Christ and receiving him as Lord and Master and Savior of your life. The gift can be yours. If you are not willing to receive it, then I suppose the only thing I could say to you is "Merry Tifton."

© 1990, Dr. James Kennedy
Preaching Today Issue #087
A resource of Christianity Today International

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Sermon Outline:


Kennedy's sermon is a Christmas parable that details the degeneration of "Tifton Day."

I. The history of Tifton Day

II. In search of the true Tifton Day


How many of you feel that something is still missing after you open all of the gifts and spend time with your families?