Today we begin. We enter the season of expectation and waiting on this the first Sunday of Advent. Our theme at Heritage this Advent is “Open the Door” and our theme scripture comes from Revelation 3:20 – “Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.”
Those words revealed to John were written to the church of Laodicea, who were accused of being lukewarm – not too hot, not too cold – people who thought they had this whole Christian life thing figured out, but learn from John that in reality, they are no where close. They are called to change their hearts and their lives – to become people on fire for their God.
Back in 1986 when Ben Johnson wrote his small book, I Stand at the Door, he was convinced that God was calling him to bring a similar message to the church of his time. Thirty-two years later, it feels like a fresh message for our time as well.
Today, we read the introduction together as we take these first steps into the season when we prepare our hearts and lives for the advent of the Christ child.
Before beginning to read this message, you have a right to know how it came into being. I had been teaching evangelism at Columbia Theological Seminary for four years. During those years I conducted scores of workshops and consultations. My efforts to awaken and stimulate evangelistic activity were well received. yet, I could discern too little change in the church’s life.
My concern deepened. I found myself praying with greater intensity, asking, “What do you want me to do?” There was silence for a long time.
During a few days of intentionally seeking the Lord’s will for the church, I heard this admonition; “Call my church to prayer!” Could it really be so simple? Is a return to prayer really the greatest need of the church?
How would I call the church to prayer? I tried to address the church on the need to turn to God, but was unsuccessful. The commission remained, but the method eluded me.
Then, a strange thing happened. I was sitting at my word processor working on another book when ideas about Christ renewing his church began interrupting my thoughts. Repeatedly I heard the words, “I stand at the door…” I tried to write, to capture the inspiration in words, buy my effort proved futile.
One Saturday evening in September, events began to happen as though they were on an independent timetable. I boarded Delta flight 194 to Newark, pulled out a yellow pad from my briefcase and prepared to write. ‘All right,” I said, ‘If you want to give me a message for the church, I’m listening.’ I had scarcely finished the prayer when the words began to flow. The ideas flooded my mind faster than I could write.
The inspiration did not stop upon my arrival in Newark. Next morning the ideas continued to come so strongly that between appointments I kept writing what I heard. You may judge this effort a figment of my imagination. Before you form your opinion, however, listen for the sounds of him who speaks from beyond. Each time I read this message, I heard something fresh. As you read it, I pray there is a message for you and for the church.
As I contemplate the word of Christ to me, a member of his body, I draw both direction and inspiration from a prayer written by Charles de Foucauld a half-century ago. Before you risk listening to him who stands at the door, I invite you to pray this prayer as your own.
I commend my soul into your hands.
Do with me what you will.
Whatever you do, I thank you.
I am ready for all; I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures.
This only, I desire, O Lord
Into your hand I commit my soul.
I offer it to you with all the love in my heart,
For I do love you, Lord, and
So need to give myself,
To surrender myself without reserve,
And with boundless confidence because
YOU ARE MY FATHER.
May our journey begin.
*I Stand at the Door, by Ben Johnson, CTS Press, 1986, vii-ix.