Today we break new ground here at SBC Voices as we interview one of our own. Anthony Russo recently talked with fellow SBC Voices contributor Doug Hibbard about his new book, Advent Reflections: The Gift Cycle, available here on Amazon.com’s Kindle Store for only .99 cents. Here’s what Doug had to say:
Anthony Russo: For those who may not know you, tell us a little about yourself.
Doug Hibbard: My name is Doug Hibbard. I am a pastor of a church, First Baptist Church of Almyra, Arkansas, in the eastern prairie of Arkansas, on the edge of the Mississippi Delta. I didn’t grow up here, I am an Air Force kid. I was born in Texas, lived in the Philippines, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas… I graduated from Ouachita Baptist University and am working on my M.Div. through Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary’s extension program.
AR: A lot of people think “advent” is just a religious word. What is Advent, and why is it important?
DH: Advent is the idea of waiting, waiting for the coming of Christ…to prepare your hearts for the worship and celebration of his coming. I grew up with celebrating Advent and when I got older and started working for UPS and later Chick-Fil-A, I saw how the world kicks into high gear around this time. If you don’t slow down and focus your heart it’s really easy to get distracted by everything else. It’s real easy to become much more concerned about arguing whether or not Walmart is keeping Christ in Christmas without stopping to make sure that you are.
DH: It was an idea that hit me while we were doing some Christmas decorating, about two weeks before Thanksgiving. I thought, “This would be helpful.”
AR: How did you go from doing a ‘honey-do’ list of putting up Christmas decorations to, “I think I’m going to write an Advent devotional book of four weeks of six devotional readings each”?
DH: Keith and Kristyn Getty wrote a Christmas song called Joy Has Dawned that has the line in the third verse that says, “Gold—a King is born today/Incense—God is with us/Myrrh—His death will make a way/And by His blood He’ll win us.” I thought that would make a good, organized theme of a three-week Advent devotional, a week on each. So I sat down and started working on it.
AR: Had you done any prior research on gold, frankincense, and myrrh?
DH: Not really “organized” research, just the same stuff most preachers do.
AR: In your in-depth research, was there any particular fact about them that surprised you?
DH: The thing that struck me that I hadn’t seen before was that when we speak of myrrh, we think of it as a burial spice—what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus bring to prepare the body of Jesus. But if you go back to the Old Testament, myrrh shows up in the anointing oil for the tabernacle, but also in Proverbs and Song of Solomon in the context of intimacy and relationships, negatively so in Proverbs 7, but positively in Song of Solomon. So, myrrh is used in several contexts we don’t often think about.
AR: The fourth week of your Advent devotionals is The People—some of the people in the Christmas story. What are some of the other themes you bring out in this book?
DH: In writing about gold I put that in perspective of kingship—Jesus as King of Creation. Is he the king because he conquered it? Is he the king because he bought it off somebody or inherited it? No, he’s the king because he made it in the first place. So, even when they bring him gold, how’d the gold get there? He made it! Also, Revelation 21 says the street of heaven is gold. While we can bring him things that are valuable to us, what God desires is the right attitude of our hearts, humility, ‘but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.’ The stuff that we count as valuable—gold—is asphalt in heaven (or, if you’re out here in the boondocks, “gravel”).
AR: Your love of history shows through in this book and adds a lot of color to it…
DH: History shows us what people are like. You can read for yourself what people were like and how they did things.
AR: You also love Country music. In this devotional you suggest songs to go with each day. Some are hymns, some are by popular artists. What do you hope these songs add to the reader’s Advent experience?
DH: One of things I was hoping to develop is to provide something that you can use not only for an individual devotional, but also for small groups; and one of the things we often do at Christmastime is sing together. I tried to pick songs and hymns people would know.
AR: Your footnotes cracked me up. I wrote down that they are “funny and folksy.” For instance, you avoid many of the popular Christmas debates by saying in footnote form, “…but that’s a topic for another day.” It seems you really tried to keep to a central theme with this book.
DH: I’ve got friends from all different denominational backgrounds, and I didn’t want to pick a bunch of fights. I love those arguments, those are fun to have, but I didn’t want to include all the research on it. It would only bog it down—before you get to the daily devotional meant to help you focus on Jesus right now, wade through twenty pages of academic debate, with references to “this was presented at the 1972 meeting of the thus-and-such…”
AR: In the book you mention Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an influence in your life. Do you want to give a minute to him and say something about that?
DH: One of my big influences in college was from Denmark and had been the pastor of First Baptist Copenhagen for a number of years. He brought up Bonhoeffer in reference to a lot that went on around World War II. Through him I had the opportunity to read biographies of Bonhoeffer and some of his own books. Here’s somebody who took his faith seriously. He didn’t take the Gospel lightly. He didn’t take the Bible or living for Jesus in a light and trivial manner. There were parts of his theology I would disagree with—infant baptism, the merger of church and state…but he’s still a good influence.
AR: You have a bonus section at the end of the book, at the end of the four weeks. Do you want to mention it or leave it as a surprise for your readers?
DH: Oh, let’s leave that a surprise!
AR: As you were researching, praying, writing, selecting the songs, thinking through Advent, etc. what hope did you have for your readers? What do you want them to get out of it?
DH: My basic hope is just to put a tool into peoples’ hands that is easy to read to make sure that we, as followers of Christ, are thinking through the implications of what Christmas is about. My hope is that, at the end of the day, you can say, “that helped me walk a little closer with Jesus and be a little more like him.”
Doug Hibbard’s Advent Reflections: The Gift Cycle is available in the Amazon.com Kindle store for only .99 cents. If you are unable to afford the cost, he has also made it available on his blog.