The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
December 24, 2015
We have witnessed a miracle. Can you believe it? We are gathered here tonight, and against all the odds, against all the improbabilities, something very special is happening. Can you believe it? The Grand Parkway is almost finished. This one billion dollar, one hundred and eighty mile monstrosity that wraps around Houston is, simply, miraculous. The Grand Parkway could enclose the entire area from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland. The Grand Parkway, could encircle all of Paris and its suburbs, all of London and its suburbs. The Grand Parkway could enclose all of Rhode Island. I’m not sure what that says about Houston, or Rhode Island. But this Grand Parkway truly is a miracle.
Because of the sheer size of Houston, each of you here tonight took a different route to get here. You came from all points in Spring. Some of you live across the street. Some of you live in The Woodlands or even Conroe. But tonight, as you stepped into your car, you made a decision to come here.
To be in this church. To worship together on this holy night. We were brought together for one reason – to celebrate the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the night, on which God comes down to us, and is made known to us. This is the night, on which grace, mercy, and love incarnate walks among us as a human. This is the night, on which you and I come near the living God.
As the Gospel of Luke tells us, the angel directed the shepherds to go see the Lord God; we too have left our homes and come here to worship the Lord God. Those shepherds are our spiritual ancestors.
This is the incredible grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. You and I all have different paths to worship the Lord Jesus. The path that you took here tonight is different from mine. And that is okay. Your way of following Jesus is going to look different, and be different, because we are different. Some of us have followed Jesus our whole lives. Some of us are new to it all. Some of us have been coming to this church for forty years. For some of us, this is our first time to darken these doors. None of that matters. What matters is that the miracle of this holy night, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is so awe-inspiring, so magnificent, so beautiful – that we were all drawn to gather here around this holy table. This is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ – that with shepherds, and with billions of Christians from centuries past, and with billions of Christians today, we gather in darkness to celebrate this beautiful moment.
But before we go on, let’s go back to Houston roads for just a moment. Rice University just completed a large-scale survey of Houston and its residents. The number one complaint about Houston among Houstonians? Traffic. By far. We complain more about traffic than we complain about the Houston Texans. And I get it. From my house by Klein Oak high school, there are at least four good routes to get to church. Traffic on these routes varies by time of day, so I change my route accordingly. And sometimes, construction traffic is so bad, that I want to turn around and stay at home.
It’s not so different in our journey to meet Jesus. We forget our destination. We lose our sense of direction. I think, in our modern world, what is most likely to lead us away from our destination to see Jesus, is fear. One wise priest once told me that the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is fear. The opposite of faith is fear.
And yes, this world is both fearful and fear-inducing. We are afraid of losing our jobs, we’re afraid of politicians and what they say, we’re afraid of terrorists, we’re afraid of immigrants, we’re afraid of how our children are growing up, and the world they’re growing up in; sometimes, we’re even afraid of ourselves. And what fear does is closes us down, and turns us inward. We are so crippled by fear that we shut out everything that might frighten us. We lock our doors, we surround ourselves with people who think the same way that we do, we buy more and more things to distract us, we protect our children from every possible harm, we keep out everybody who frightens us – including God. Fear is the roadblock that prevents us from seeing Jesus.
When we are called to go see Jesus, we are afraid, just as the shepherds. When the angels say they have good news for all the people, we’re afraid that they really mean all the people. We know that Jesus is calling us home, to worship him, and we are afraid of what that will mean. Because it will mean that we have to give up the things we treasure most. Our toys, our preconceived notions, our resentments, our money, our lives. Like the shepherds, going to see Jesus means that we have to leave our flocks behind.
That is why the first thing that the angel says to the shepherds is, “Do not be afraid.” The good news is that with Jesus, there is nothing to be afraid of. For nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Nothing – no terrorist, no economic recession, no politician, nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God that is made known to us on this holy night.
So what the angels said to those shepherds, I now say to you: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. The Grand Parkway will be finished soon. Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. You no longer have to live in fear. Fear of the world. Fear of other people. Fear of yourselves. Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of great joy. God is with you. Wherever you have come from, and wherever you are going, God is calling to you, because God is with you. That is the miracle of Christmas. God has been born into this world and nothing can separate you from that love. I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Do not be afraid.