This Advent season, five Regional Executives of American Baptist regions will provide reflections focusing on “What Christmas Means to Me.” Each reflection will be posted prior to the Sundays in Advent, along with Christmas Sunday. For the second Sunday of Advent, Rev. Dr. James M. Harrison, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of the South, reflects on “What Christmas Means to Me.” Read the reflection for the first Sunday of Advent here.
God Comes to the Back Door
When I am called to reflect upon the season of advent, I immediately think about the prayer language of the slave church of the antebellum south, “Lawd Ise wont ta be reddy”. This was the prayer attitude of many of my ancestors in Southside Virginia during the days of Slavery. They lived in a context of readiness on two levels, first to experience life in freedom here, and then to answer the call of almighty God to an eternal freedom beyond this mortal life. Advent is a call to be ready and to be prepared. It is a season of devotion. Each year during this season I read publicly the same passages from both the old and new testaments, Isaiah 40: 1-8. and the Gospel of Mark 1: 1-3.
Mark opens his gospel quoting the prophet Isaiah. God brings comfort to His people but His people must be prepared to receive it. Mark presents Jesus as the servant-savior who preaches from one theme throughout his public ministry, that is, “the Kingdom is at hand!” The believer must be ready and prepared to receive it, but the trappings are not as we would expect. A voice crying in the wilderness, but there is nothing in the wilderness. It is dry and barren in the wilderness. The wilderness is unproductive and lifeless, and no one can see this great thing that God does in the wilderness. So why does God come into the wilderness? Advent is about making ready and being prepared for the coming of our Lord. God always comes in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. In the first advent He comes to us a child to offer salvation to the world. This coming is with a sign but not really understood by the world. We now await the Second Advent and wonder how, will He come. The how and when of His coming is not our concern but we only need to be ready.
The believer should be ready in mind, in body, and in the world about them. Every thought and decision must be guided by and influenced by the fact that we are in the world but not of the world. Our pattern of thinking is shaped by the fact of advent. God is coming again. Our bodies must be fit, ready to respond to the requirements of a coming savior. We must dress our bodies in preparation for what God will require of us. Consider then, are we overdressed? This situation will cause us to be sluggish and slow to respond to God’s call. We need to unload all of the excess articles of worldly clothing that calls our attention away from being ready and prepared. Are we underdressed? This condition invites the unwanted attention and invites of the world subjecting us to needless temptations. Finally, the believer must make ready his/her world around them. God comes to the wilderness in our lives, those unproductive and barren places. These are the places that need attention. These are the back doors of our lives.
I prefer that guests come to the front door of my home. My front door is painted and well decorated. There are planters full of flowers which shout the message of welcome to known visitors and strangers alike. My back door is not so inviting. It sees the regular busy traffic of those carrying groceries, suitcases, junk and such. The paint is peeling on the back door. Our Jack Russell Terrier, “Reese”, has broken the screen in the back door. He cannot open it, but comes in and out by simply jumping through the busted screen. I continue to say ~ I will fix the screen and door, but have not as of yet. God comes to the back door of our lives while we are looking to the front door where we have made ready. It is the back door, out-of-sight, that really needs our attention to be prepared and ready for God when He comes again.
While you are busy going to and fro during this Holiday Season looking after your front door, consider that back door this year, where the paint is peeling, where there are smudges, and a busted screen. When God comes, He is coming to the back door while you are watching the front door. I wish and pray for you a wonderful season of Advent where we can once again turn our attentions to making preparation for the coming of our Lord.
Rev. Dr. James M. Harrison
American Baptist Churches of the South