The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 12/23/01
Text: John 1:9-12
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An Advent story.(1) Once upon a time there was a sleepy little village called Cheeryvale, just west of Noplaceinparticular. Now, Noplaceinparticular was a thriving metropolis. Young people seemed especially to be attracted to it, and everyone knows that a thriving community needs young people. In homes all over the territory come Saturday night, parents would ask their teenagers, "Where are you going?" and the response was invariably, "Oh, Noplaceinparticular." They all went there...almost all.

There was one young man in Cheeryvale who rarely followed the crowd to the big city. He could have had he wanted to - he was very popular. In fact, he was president of the student body at Cheeryvale High, captain of the football team and class valedictorian. On top of that, he worked weekends as a stock clerk at Ferguson's Drugstore and was a leader of the youth group in his church. Everybody liked him, young and old. His senior class yearbook had a big picture of him in it with the caption "Most Likely to Succeed." It had been a unanimous vote. Word was that he would be a shoo-in if he ever decided to run for the legislature or even Congress someday. He was quite a young fellow.

As it turned out, he did go into politics, locally. After he finished High School, he went off to State University because it was nearby and he would be able to get home every weekend. He graduated with honors, then, unlike so many of his classmates who went off to the bigger cities to seek their fortunes, he returned to Cheeryvale and went to work in his father's cabinet-making business. Within a few years he had been elected Mayor...quite an honor for one so young.

He took the position very seriously. He firmly believed that the people's trust was a very special responsibility. He worked hard, harder than any mayor Cheeryvale had ever had. In fact, he was SUCH a hard worker, such a dedicated public servant, that when it came time for the next election, no one wanted to run against him. It did not matter that no one would have had a chance of defeating him - no one wanted to see HIM defeated. He was too good. Through the years the situation repeated itself. It got to the place where, finally, no one could remember when he had NOT been mayor...but no one minded.

He was the one who had attracted that modern factory on the edge of town that had given so many people jobs. He was the one responsible for that lovely park over by the lake that provided recreation for so many families. He had even donated the granite drinking fountain in the town square out of his own money. He was the one who had been the leader in getting that beautiful new town hall built. To everyone, he was MR. Cheeryvale, and he had gotten the title the old-fashioned way...he had EARNED it.

Many years went by. Cheeryvale continued to grow...just quickly enough to keep things lively, but not so fast as to create real problems. The mayor kept up his good work on behalf of the local citizens. Life was good...for them and for him.

Town Council meeting. An idea had been brewing in the mind of the Chair of the Department of Recreation. He rose to his feet and advanced a proposal which everyone heartily endorsed as soon as it was out of his mouth - a day set aside to honor this man who had done so much for all of them...MAYOR'S DAY.

Of course, the mayor was very honored by the thought and told the council so. He said something like that really was not necessary - he felt appreciated enough without a big celebration. But his protests fell on deaf ears, and this was one occasion when the council firmly overrode the mayor's objections. Secretly, he did not mind - it made him feel rather good.

So plans were made. A day was set aside three months hence, the 25th. A committee was established to plan activities and promote the festivities. They wanted Mayor's Day to be different from other special days honoring individuals. They wanted to do something other than just have a parade with high school marching bands and scout troops. They wanted to give the whole town the chance to participate in many different ways.

The mayor did not quite know what to expect, but he did not mind. He was really quite excited about it all - a DAY...just for him. He walked a little straighter, carried his chin a little higher, smiled even more than usual when people would come rushing up to him to say how proud they were of him and how much he deserved something like this. He began to imagine the many congratulations and certificates of merit and little plaster statuettes that would be coming his way. It crossed his mind that they might even name the new town hall after him. There would be a sense of joy as he watched the town fathers hang his picture up and down Main Street. He would enjoy hearing the Cheeryvale Glee Club sing, "For He's a Jolly Good Mayor." The more he thought about it, the more pleased he got.

Soon Cheeryvale began to take on a festive air. Garlands of lights and tinsel were hung between lamp posts in the downtown shopping district. They stretched a giant banner over the main intersection by the town square proclaiming in bright red letters, HAPPY MAYOR'S DAY. People rushed to and fro in their preparations for the big event.

The supermarkets in Cheeryvale began to make their parking lots available to some of the local civic organizations so they might raise some needed cash by selling Mayor's Day bushes. Big hand-lettered signs saying, "Buy Your Mayor's Day Bush From Us - Cheeryvale High School Band Boosters Club," and others similar began to spring up. The mayor could not figure a connection between the bushes and his special day, but he did not object, especially since everyone seemed to be enjoying buying them so much and seeing how much money was being raised for worthy causes. In fact, he minded even less as he overheard the conversations among friends in their shopping that would conclude with something like, "Hey, listen, if I don't see you anymore between now and then, have a Happy Mayor's Day." The mayor thought that was a nice touch.

But he began to wonder. Everyday he rose early, showered and dressed in one of his better suits in case the photographers would come to take the pictures to be displayed downtown and published in the Cheeryvale Gazette. But day after day went by and no one came. Finally, reluctantly, he decided to call the paper to see when someone would be coming over. They were surprised that the Mayor had not gotten the word...they had decided to cancel that part of the plan. They figured that downtown was decorated enough already, and nothing more was needed. Besides, the folks at the paper were really snowed under just now with all the Mayor's Day promotions and sales going on all over town. They had more advertisements scheduled to run than they had ever had in their history. There had been a rash of petty thefts and shoplifting that the sheriff was attributing to people who were feeling left out of all the Mayor's Day festivities. Then there was that campaign that the paper was heading up calling for donations of toys and food to be given to poor families on Mayor's Day. Time was running out. After all, there were only 12 more shopping days till Mayor's Day as it was.

Speaking of shopping, everyone was doing it. The merchants of Cheeryvale were calling this the best season of the entire year. You see, someone had gotten the idea that Mayor's Day would be a good time for exchanging gifts among friends and family. The mayor thought that it probably would have been more apropos to give gifts to HIM, but he realized that perhaps people really did not know what to give him anyway, so he accepted what was happening, even if he did not understand it. The only thing he noticed was that everyone seemed to be buying NUTS. THAT, he thought, was appropriate.

There were other things that were not appropriate at ALL though. The mayor had been a teetotaler all his life, but now, in honor of his day, everyone began to hold Mayor's Day cocktail parties. Some of the offices in town were even planning to knock off work early on the 24th to have a real company-wide blow-out. It might have been a little more understandable if they had planned to invite Hizzoner. After all, this whole thing WAS set up to honor HIM...but no invitations came. The mayor began to feel a little left out. Mayor's Day was acquiring some dimensions no one had counted on.

Probably the strangest of all was this fellow that the children had begun to talk so much about...St. Cheeryface. Somehow, a story had gotten started among some of the small fry that this St. Cheeryface would come round on the night before Mayor's Day and bring lots of toys and gifts to all the children in the town. That was probably the biggest thing behind all the shopping going on. The mayor figured that St. Cheeryface was the invention of the merchants in town to boost sales, but he never bothered to talk to any of them about it.

The local radio station picked up on all the St. Cheeryface publicity, figuring that the more they promoted the idea, the more commercials the businesses would buy. They had songs on the air like "Jolly Old St. Cheeryface," and "You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry, Don't make St. Cheeryface frown." There were a few things on that still reminded people of what the celebration was all about. There was "I'm dreaming of a white Mayor's Day," but this was just one more thing the mayor did not understand because, any other time that snow fell, people complained bitterly about it - slippery sidewalks, dangerous driving, things like that. Strange songs...strange EVERYTHING, thought the mayor.

To the radio station's credit, they did not spend ALL their time playing songs and airing commercials that promoted Mayor's Day sales. The owner of the station every afternoon had a program on where he would sit and talk about "Just Things." And he would talk and he would talk! He said that, as a citizen of Cheeryvale, he had been pleased to see the community spirit so evident in the success of the drive to collect food and toys for those less fortunate. Then he concluded by saying it would be a grand idea if people would remember the spirit of Mayor's Day, not just one day of the year, but all year through. It was nice - "God, Mother and Apple Pie" - nothing controversial. But, as was the policy of the station, if anyone had a response to any of the comments, other points of view were invited. They could call and arrange for a time when their opinions might be presented. To the station's surprise, they got such a call on this one - from the Rev. Dr. Brown, minister of the Cheeryvale Presbyterian Church.

Arrangements were made and Dr. Brown went on the air. He said: "My friends, I have come here today to reply to an editorial that this station aired two days ago in which the manager praised our community's efforts to aid some of those in Cheeryvale who might not have as happy a Mayor's Day as others. I agree with him. This is a generous community. But I should like to offer one suggestion...when those baskets of food and toys are delivered, let those who receive them know that they are being given in the name of the one after whom this day is named - our mayor. Let no one think that these gifts come from some jolly old St. Cheeryface. Let them know that we in Cheeryvale wish to take this special opportunity to share of what we have in honor of this man who has given of himself so unstintingly for so long. I and my family have appreciated all the joy and happiness that have surrounded the preparation for Mayor's Day. I think that such an atmosphere is in keeping with honoring a man whose warm personality and pleasant demeanor have given such joy and happiness to all of us. But one thing has distressed the midst of all the hustle and bustle, I fear that too many have forgotten the cause for our celebration as well as the one whom we seek to honor. I sum it up by saying simply this: KEEP THE MAYOR IN MAYOR'S DAY. We make a grave mistake if we do not. Thank you."

It would be nice to say that Dr. Brown's sermonette had an impact, but it did not - preachers are used to that. Those Mayor's Day Eve cocktail parties went on as scheduled. The buying and selling went on right up to the last possible moment. Children were still much more interested in St. Cheeryface than the mayor. Those baskets of food and toys were delivered, not in the name of the mayor, but in the name of the Cheeryvale Rotarians, Lions, and Kiwanis. Nothing really changed because of what the pastor had said.

Mayor's Day finally came. It was parades, no marching bands, no floats. There were no presentations of keys to the announcement about naming the new town hall in the mayor's honor. As a matter of fact, there were no public events of any kind. Everyone was too busy in their own homes around those bushes they had bought in the supermarket parking lots. They were busy exchanging all those gifts from St. Cheeryface. They were busy preparing for big family dinners. There was no time for any kind of public gathering to honor the mayor. Frankly, the people were having too good a time doing what they were doing...everyone except the mayor.

Hizzoner sat alone all day. No one bothered to call. No one came by. No one invited him to drop by for a visit, just as no one had invited him to any of their pre-Mayor's Day parties. They were all too busy. "Mayor's Day," he thought... "Big deal!"

Poor Mayor. Poor Mayor.


1. Adapted and enlarged upon from "Christmas in Pleasantville" by Calvin Miller, Sixteen Days on the Church Calendar, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968), pp. 113-120

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