I grew up in the Midwest where it snows in December
and pine trees are as numerous as tumbleweeds in Texas.
At Christmas, I miss my home and family,
but Texas is now my home and, in Christ, you are now my family!
I am so honored and happy to be with you on this special night.
I might miss the pine trees and snowy Decembers of the Midwest,
But, as I drove here tonight, I was reminded how much the Texas landscape
speaks of the love and mercy of God.
For instance, in the Bible, Psalm 103 tells us that
“God removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.”
Here, on the High Plains, we can see actually see just how far
“the east is from the west.”
Another Bible verse that comes to mind
when I find myself behind the wheel of my truck,
is the cry of St. John the Baptist
which opens the season of Advent:
“Prepare a highway for our God! Make straight his paths!”
In this part of Texas, nearly every highway and farm-to-market road
is as straight as an arrow…taking us straight to Christmas!
And, if you happen to be driving these roads at night,
you’ll notice on the horizons,
long stretches of red lights on the tops of wind turbines,
blinking in the distance like strands of Christmas lights
about to be wrapped around a tree
or hung on the eaves of a house.
The High Plains are replete with reminders of Christ:
The prickly pear cacti remind us of his crown of thorns.
The stone-wall canyons remind us of his temptation in the desert.
The fiery sunsets remind us of his blazing love!
Yet, there exists one aspect of our landscape
that speaks of Christmas more than any others:
empty houses on abandoned homesteads.
We have a lot of such houses in this part of the country.
At this time of the year, each time I notice an abandoned house
off in the distance, I am convinced that.
if Joseph and Mary were traveling through remote country like ours,
not to a little town called Bethlehem, but a little town called Hare,
and the time came for Mary to give birth,
chances are, they would have had to seek shelter in an abandoned house.
Have you ever inside one?
Have you ever pulled off the road
and stepped inside an old farm house to explore its rooms?
If so, did you enter the room that used to be the kitchen
and wonder how many children once gathered at the table
inside that small space?
Did you wonder if the mother planted a garden;
did the family pray for rain?
Did the father keep his horses inside a corral?
Were the bedrooms cold in the winter time?
In which corner of the family would they have placed their Christmas tree?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, somehow,
every abandoned house on the Texas plains
and every empty house in a small Texas town
could once again be filled with happiness and laughter?
Swelling with faith as big as the Texas sky
and basking in love as warm as the summer sun?
Friends, on this Christmas night,
the Holy Gospel proclaims that the Son of God
was born in a lowly stable alongside some lonely road
in a forgotten part of the world.
Was it not to convey the message
to all of history that,
in God’s eyes,
no soul ever gets abandoned when it comes to his mercy;
no community gets overlooked when it comes to his justice;
and no place on earth receive God’s loving attention
like the places that receive no attention
from the arrogant and powerful people of the world?
We’re the lucky ones!
We’re the lucky ones because…
when you don’t have a big, fancy school to attend,
when you don’t have a big, fancy truck to drive,
when you don’t have a big, fancy mansion to call home…
you’re more apt to feel at home inside the House of God,
you’re more apt to value the things that truly matter,
and you’re more apt to pitch in to help a neighbor
who is old, or sick or gets hurt on the job.
Here, in this part of Texas,
we know what it means to have our sins removed
as far as the east is from the west;
we know that the best road is the straight road that leads us straight to God.
We’re the lucky ones because,
each time we see an abandoned house off in the distance,
we’re reminded that Christ was born into this world
to the fill the empty places in the world
with hope, gratitude and love.
On this feast of Christmas, Christ is born yet again…
here on the High Plains,
within this parish, within this community
and within each one of us.
Filling the empty rooms of our souls
with the promise of peace
the warmth of his love
and the wonder of his grace.
Glory to God on this holy feast!
Glory to God who turns the High Plains
into a place of high praise!