Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for Christmas Eve

A Savior for YOU
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -


My friend, Pastor Susan Sparks, tells a wonderful story from her life:

"There's no room here, or at the Holiday Inn, the Days Inn, or the C'mon Inn," the desk clerk said, shaking his head. "The Shriners have a gathering downtown, the Mary Kay convention is at the Coliseum, and there's a quilt show at the Marriott."

This was not welcome news. It was a cold, autumn night in Bismarck, N.D. Susan and her husband Toby had just finished a four-hundred-mile motorcycle ride from Wisconsin across Minnesota into North Dakota. "Please ... really ... we'll take anything," Susan said, starting to worry. "There is NO room here," he said with an impatient tone in his voice. "The best you can do is ride up to Fort Mandan and try the Sunset Motel." "But that's thirty miles!" Susan said. "Yup," he said, "and you'd better hurry. Because they're gonna fill up, too."

Exhausted and cold, Toby and Susan fired up their Harley Road King and headed up the Interstate for Mandan. As they crested the last hill before our exit, they saw the sign in the distance - an antiquated neon marker with the "tel" of the motel's name missing. It flashed: "Sun Mo."

The missing lights were just the beginning. There had been clearly no maintenance in years, and the lobby smelled like the inside of an unfiltered cigarette. But they had no choice, so they walked up to the front desk. The woman behind the counter, gray hair to her waist, barked, "Can I help ya?" "Y'all have any rooms?" Susan asked, praying fervently. "Last one," she said proudly, producing an old timey key with a plastic teardrop-shaped medallion attached.

When they opened the door to the room, Susan says she immediately flashed to Luke's Christmas story because this - this was definitely a manger. She wrote that she was pretty sure the last guests to stay in that room were livestock. It was a tiny space with worn carpets, a cigarette-burned bedspread, and a sign in the bathroom that read: "Please don't use towels to clean guns." Susan and Toby did not care. They were out of the cold in a place they could lay their heads. That was comfort enough.

That’s Susan Sparks’ story of no room in the inn!

It is a bad feeling to be left out in the cold. To be told there is no room at the inn, told we are not welcome. It is a bad feeling to be excluded, left out, pushed aside.

And, tragically, the refrain of "no room at the inn" is commonplace. And we have all been there. Maybe it was early in life when someone didn't pick us for their sports team or invite us to sit at their table during school lunch. Or maybe it was later when we were pushed aside for a job we wanted. Or perhaps, it was even later in life, when we felt left out by our families, or ignored because of age or illness.

The refrain "no room at the inn" is commonplace. For eight million American children, for example, there is no room at the "inn" of healthcare; for seven million Americans, there is no room at the "inn" of full employment; for 925 million people globally, there is no room at the "inn" of food and sustenance; and for more than 500,000 Americans, the only room available is a homeless shelter.

And then there are folks who are told there is no room at the inn because of their skin color, religion, sexual orientation or nationality.

And then there is the inn which, thanks to our own abuse, is about to hang out a no vacancy sign, and that is the inn we call Mother Earth. Between carbon emissions, strip mining, the proliferation of plastic, overpopulation, over logging, over fishing; there will soon be no room at the inn, Mother Earth, our environment. That means no room for giant pandas, Sumatran tigers, polar bears ... and us.

Adoration of the shepherdsIt's a bad feeling to be left out in the cold, and we have all experienced it in one way or another. However, Luke’s Christmas story not only offers us a poignant reflection of our pain, but also a powerful way to transform it.

We have all lived Mary and Joseph's story at some point in our lives, but guess what? No matter how many times we've been turned away, we all have the potential to transform into the one with the keys to the inn.

Like in our story from Luke, Jesus, even though his family was left out, was told there was no room. Jesus was born; a savior was born that night - a savior who opened the doors of the kingdom and welcomed the stranger, the needy, the lonely, the sick. A savior who taught: "What you do to the least of them, you do to me." A savior who transformed from the one rejected by the world to the innkeeper of the world.

Here’s another story from Pastor Sparks:

About a year or so ago, Jose Moran, the custodian for the Holy Child Jesus Church in Richmond Hill, Queens, New York had just finished setting up the Nativity scene and gone to lunch. When he returned about an hour later, he heard the cries of an infant. He went into the sanctuary and found a tiny baby boy swaddled in purple towels on the floor of the manger. The baby boy was so young he still had his umbilical cord.

An earlier neighborhood surveillance video showed the mother with the wee baby in the 99-cent store buying purple towels, then heading out the door toward the church. What transpired was a 21st century version of the book of Luke. For that day in Queens, the world had no room for this little baby, so he was left in the manger by what turned out to be a single, unwed mother, and wrapped in purple towels (the color of royalty) from the 99-cent store. In fact, the congregation nicknamed the baby "Emmanuel," which as we know is Hebrew for "God is with us." Today, the baby is with a loving family and has a chance to begin again.

Like baby Emmanuel, the story does not end with Jesus being turned away from the inn. In fact, it's here that it begins. His call was for something bigger, for Jesus came to fling open the doors of the inn for all to come and find shelter. Come to me, all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.

And our call is the same. We will be rejected in this life, turned away, left out in the cold, but that, fortunately, is not the end of the story. Like Jesus, we are all called to become the innkeeper, to become the builders of the kingdom, the protector of our brothers and sisters.

And when we step into that call, something amazing happens. Our own pain tends to fade when we are focused on others. Our own situation seems a little less important when we are reaching out a hand to someone in need. When we lift someone else up, we not only lift up ourselves, we lift up the Christ child, for what we do to the least of them, we do to Jesus Christ himself.

For all those who feel left out this holiday, for all those who have been excluded, rejected, turned away, for all whose hearts and spirits are broken, there is good news on this Christmas eve. For on this day is born to you, a savior. A savior who welcomes you - no matter who you are, no matter what your past, no matter what your present, no matter how lost or defeated you may feel,
UNTO YOU is born this day a savior, Christ the Lord.

Amen.

 

(With thanks to the Rev. Susan Sparks, pastor of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the “Day1” radio ministry).

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Dec. 24, 2017


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