pastorEric aug2014Sermon for Christmas Eve Mass-

Emmanuel – God with Us!
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -


This may date me, but like some of you, I watched many television and film westerns as I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Some of my favorites were Roy Rodgers, Gene Autry, Rin-Tin-Tin, and the Lone Ranger.  I spent many Saturday mornings in front of the television next door at Ricky Law’s home and quite a few Saturday afternoons as the old Strand Theatre in Reading, Pennsylvania watching those and other western heroes.  My favorite ending, which was both typical and common for those westerns, involved the hero in trouble, surrounded by hostile outlaws.  Just as my hero was running out of ammunition, over the hill would come the cavalry or sheriff’s posse or whatever, and my hero would be saved to entertain me another day.  Perhaps you have similar memories?
Quote jesusCameToBringHopeUnfortunately, even though I watched many of those westerns, I soon grew up and found out that the real world was not like the world of those westerns.  Too often, the cavalry or that posse never comes in the real world and people only continue to suffer.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the Lone Ranger could sneak in and bring peace to Iraq and Syria?  Roy Rodgers would figure out a way to feed all the hungry people in the world – his chuck wagon always seemed to be full of food!  And Gene Autry would calm the troubled peoples in Israel and Palestine just by singing one of his songs!  If only God would work on earth the way those western heroes did on my Saturday mornings!  If only God would come down with a posse and clean up the mess people have made of this world and our own lives!
However, we all know that God does not work that way.  Instead, God chose to come to us in a different way.  Not as troops of cavalry on horses, but as a little baby in a stable in Bethlehem.  Not with a lot of flash and power, but only the wail of a baby, cold and wet.  In St. John’s famous words, “The word became flesh and lived among us.”  Jesus came that first Christmas not to rule this earthly world or bring in troops of angels to clean it up.  No, Jesus came simply for simple but important purposes.  He came to bring hope.  Jesus came to set people free from worry and sin.  He came to expand our horizons, to tell people that God loves them and bring people the Good News of salvation available to all through Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite Christmas stories was given to me by a member of my first congregation in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania.  I think it has since been made into a television movie.  You may have heard it before and, if you have, I hope you will not mind hearing it again.
The story goes something like this:
For some years now, whenever Christmas pageants are mentioned in a certain small town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling.  Wally was nine and in the second grade, although, by his age, he should have been in the fourth.  He was big and clumsy, slow in mind and movement.  Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he.  He was always a helpful boy, willing and smiling, a natural protector of the underdog.
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd in the church Christmas pageant that year, but he was assigned to a more important role as the innkeeper.  After all, the play’s director reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many lines and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph all the more forceful.
No one onstage or off was more caught up in the magic of pageant night than Wallace Purling.  The time came when Joseph appeared, slowly and tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn.  Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop.  Wally, the innkeeper, was there, waiting.
“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

“We seek lodging.”

“Seek it elsewhere.”  Wally looked straight ahead and spoke vigorously.

“The inn is filled.  There is no room for you in the inn.”  Wally looked properly stern.

“Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary.  She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest.  Surely you must have some small corner for her.  She is so tired.”

Now, for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary.  There was a long pause.

“No!  Be gone!”  The prompter whispered from the wings.

“No!  Be gone!" Wally repeated automatically.

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and the two of them started to move away.  The innkeeper did not return inside of his inn, however.  Wally stood there in the doorway watching the forlorn couple.  His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.

And, suddenly, this Christmas pageant became different from all others. 
“Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. 
“Bring Mary back.”  His face brightened with a big smile. 

“You can have my room!”
You can have my room.
Some people in town thought the pageant was ruined.  Yet, there were others – many, many others – who considered it the most Christmassy of all the Christmas pageants they had ever seen.
Again, those wonderful words from the first chapter of John’s Gospel, “The word became flesh and lived among us.”
God comes to us in so many little ways in our lives here on earth.  He comes not as cavalry or the posse in those old westerns, however appealing that might be.  No, God comes to us in simpler ways, through someone like Wallace Purling, and through you and me.  If you but open your eyes and your hearts you will see Christ this Christmas and every day.
Come Lord Jesus.

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
December 24th, 2016

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