Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas Day sermon - 2011

“The Secret Room”
Christmas Day
The Reverend Patricia M. Grace
December 25, 2011                St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

A few weeks ago, a friend shared a favorite story with me–
            an amazing story,
from a book called The Secret Room.

The book is actually a compilation
of a bunch of favorite and amazing stories
told in sermons by Rev. Brian Black.
Brian was one of her mentors, and, at one time,
            the rector of the Church of the Advent in Madison, GA.

The title story is the one I want to share with you this morning…
            the one about the secret room.

Brian grew up in rural Georgia, not far from his grandparents’ farm…
and one of his favorite places to be was their large,
                        comfortable farm house.
Of course, part of the reason for that
was because of his grandparents –
 whom he loved very much and
            who doted on him.

But the most wonderful part of that farmhouse
was that it contained a secret room.

For reasons long lost to the collective memory of the family,
            the ancestors who had built the farmhouse,
had decided to close off a room…
building a false wall across the doorway,
that could be opened,
but only if you knew the way.

I once looked at buying a house with such a feature –
            the trick was in knowing where to push against the wall,
            so that a spring-loaded seam would open –
and thus, reveal a hidden space.

Brian was taught that trick at a very young age,
                        and spent hours upon hours in that room
                                    playing with his toys, reading adventure stories,
                        dreaming of the peculiar mysteries and wonders
known only to intrepid little boys.

Years passed, Brian grew up, got married, became a priest
            and got busy raising intrepid little boys and girls of his own.
His grandparents eventually passed on
            and the family farm was sold.

Years after that, Brian was visiting back in his home town
            and by the merest coincidence,
met the people who had purchased
his grandparents’ house and property,

He couldn’t wait to ask the burning question,
and just blurted out, early in their first conversation:
“So, how ‘bout that secret room?”  

The family looked back at him blankly.
“What secret room?” their vacant stares responded.
It seems that when they had bought the house,
either Brian’s grandparents had not remembered
to tell them about the secret room …
or perhaps, were unable to tell;
or maybe it was that
the new homeowners had not been listening
or failed to believe.
Whatever the reason,
it soon became clear that for over twenty years,
that they had lived with that marvelous gift
right under their noses,
without realizing or enjoying it.

They invited Brian over,
            and he showed them the trick to opening the wall.
The family was astounded and delighted…
            and, according to Brian, enjoyed that secret room
                        for many years to come,
marveling at the great good fortune
which had, for so long, remain hidden,
literally, at the center of their lives,
            but unknown.

Brian used this story to talk about the secret room that
exists in each of us …
the secret space, he said, that has the shape of God.

Here’s what Brian says about that secret place within us:
Inside that sacred space, is a love so great that words cannot describe it.  There is a power so real that nothing can destroy it.  It is filled to the brim with the same creativity that made the world, and a strength so supreme, that mountains can be moved,  There is also in that space, a peace so serene, that nothing that may come our way in this life can pull us down.  Inside all of us is the key to eternal life.  A life of power and strength, healing and forgiveness, hope and love.

When I heard this story,
I couldn’t help but think of the word in some
of the carols we sing at this time of year…

We sing of love coming down,
            into our hearts and homes,
of love filling our empty spaces.
We pray in song, that every heart might prepare a room
            for our newborn King,
who has love, forgiveness and healing in his wings;  
the One who is the very prince of peace.
Phillips Brooks,
another Episcopal rector,
wrote other words that come to mind,
words which we sing 
in the carol, O little Town of Bethlehem:
“How silently, how silently,
            the wondrous gift is given…
so God imparts to human hearts,
            the blessing of God’s heaven…
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin…
where meek souls will receive him, still…
the dear Christ enters in.”
There is a secret room in each of us,
where Jesus Christ seeks to dwell…
not only at Christmas time, but each and every day of our lives.

Each year at Christmas, we celebrate
            this remarkable fact…
that love did, indeed, come down….
that God decided to come down…
with selfless love the only motivation,
with deep and abiding love,
the only explanation for such an incredible action.

God, came down, in the person of Jesus Christ,
love incarnate, word made into flesh –
to live as one of us,  to abide with us,
that we might always be in Him and he in us –
as one of our Eucharistic prayers proclaim.
Jesus Christ did indeed come down,
that we might live and move and have our being in Him,
            who lives and moves in us
and gave his whole being that we might live forever.

This is our favorite and most amazing story…
and if the truth be told,
it is the story
that forms the basis for every sermon …
every sermon, that is, that should be preached.
But there’s more…
It occurs to me,
            that we’re often like Brian’s grandparents…
We know about that secret room within us…
            and we know the ways to open the false walls
                        that obscure that sacred place
where our dear Christ seeks to enter in.
Often we fail to remind ourselves about this secret room;  
more often than not,
we are hesitant or feel unable
to share this information with others.

Sometimes others seek to tell us
about that special and sacred room inside us…
but sometimes, we fail to listen; we block our hearing.
Sometimes we forget over time
that we ever knew about that sacred place inside…
or sometimes, we find it hard to believe
that Jesus Christ really does desire to enter in,
into us or into certain others.

And like those new homeoweners,
we can for eyars with this amazing good fortune,
            at the center of our very lives…
we can live with the incredible gift 
that the Son of God longs to abide with us,  
to come to us and live intimately with us ….
and not know it or fail to acknowledge it.

That’s when we need someone to tell us or remind us
            about that holy place inside…
to show us how to open up that sacred room within us.

That’s what our annual celebration of Christmas is all about…

That’s what faithful worship, prayer
 and service during the whole year is all about.

The good news is
that there’s no trick to releasing the walls
that separate us from Christ’s presence within us …
                        no secret spring loader is required
to open up that sacred place.
Jesus Christ has done everything that’s necessary
for us to enter in.

Where meek souls will receive him, still,
then, that’s when, the dear Christ can just enter in…

He enters in,
and is prepared to stay…
to stay, for a whole life time and beyond.

Let every heart, then, indeed,
every single one of our hearts,
prepare him room…
and let us boldly tell the secret –
over the hills and everywhere –
                        that Jesus Christ is born …
that Jesus Christ is born,
and desires to take up residence
in every heart—
…that Jesus Christ is born
and desires to dwell
at the center of every life,  
today, tomorrow and always. 

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