I was at my parent’s home a couple of months ago and saw the cover of the AARP Magazine featured an interview with one of my all time favorite actors, Sidney Poitier. I think he is a class act all the way around and I admire the roles he played in such classics as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, To Sir With Love, In The Heat Of The Night and Lilies of the Field. He’s now 81 years old and is still as classy as ever. He related how he first experienced racism in the segregated south when he moved to Miami in 1941. He tells the story of taking a job as a delivery man. He went up to the front door of a white woman’s house to deliver a package. He knocked on the door and when she answered it, she lit into him telling him that he had no business at her front door and to get around to the back door where he “belonged.” He was so shocked and disgusted he left the package on the doorstep and vowed to get out of the south as quickly as he could.
The back door, the servant’s entrance, the door where those of “lower social standing” could come in has been a symbol of power over others for as long as I can remember. But the back door to a house is also the “familiar” entrance – the one used by the family members for a quick entrance and exit. Back doors are not very fancy they are utilitarian and often open into the home in a place where you wouldn’t want your guests to see. Mine happens to open from the garage into our laundry room. I guarantee that’s not a room you want to see as a guest in our house!
The front entrance to the house is the one we normally usher our guests through. That’s the one I harp on my daughters to clean up when company’s coming. “Pick up your shoes,” “Hang up your coat,” “Put your backpack away” – these are all things that have to be done before people walk through the front door. We want that front entrance to be neat and tidy … we want to look good for our guests. But lurking in the background is that back door with its unassuming looks, dark corners, stuff piled up next too it, and dirty laundry on the floor. We would never want our guests to see that, would we?
And yet, isn’t the back door exactly how God came into our world on Christmas? Think about it for a moment. The immortal, invisible God of Israel could have come in great power and glory like the Roman Emperors or the Egyptian Pharaohs or Alexander the Great. Instead, this God shows up as a baby born to an unwed teenage mother and her boyfriend under the circumstances of living in a temporary shelter. If that isn’t the back door into human life, what is? Jesus comes to us not through the neat and tidy front door of human existence, but through the servant’s entrance ‘round back. And the news of Christ’s birth was not announced to the powerful or wealthy “front door types” either. It was announced to shepherds who occupied one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. Shepherds in Jesus’ time were considered shiftless, lazy, and untrustworthy … and they smelled bad too. Shepherds were definitely “back door folks.” This God of the back door certainly doesn’t play by the world’s rules!
God’s slipping into the back door of history 2,000 years ago didn’t just happen once – Jesus continues to sneak in the back door of this world when he comes into each of our lives. You see, we all have a front door and back door to our lives. We have the public face we want people to see, you know, the face that we are in control, have it all together, everything in our life is fine. That’s the front door of our lives. But then there’s that pesky back door with all the messy issues we’d rather not deal with – our own dirty laundry in piles by the door. Pain, suffering, loneliness, depression, addiction, self-loathing, violence, fear – we stack all of that at the back door and hope nobody notices. When Jesus comes to each of us, he doesn’t enter by the front door. He sneaks in the back amidst the dirty laundry of our lives, not to judge, but to claim even those broken places we don’t want to acknowledge as his own. He comes to bind up those wounded places, break the shackles of sin and death, and set us free from the junk at the back door of our lives.
Jesus came through the back door of history because of the great love God has for us and his deep desire to heal the relationship with humanity. The mystery of the incarnation is that God is with us and loves all of us – not just the “front door folks” or the “front door face” we all try to present to the world. Jesus, God with us, is here to claim more than the superficial, neat and tidy parts of our lives; he also comes to claim and heal the messy, dysfunctional, dark and wounded parts too. Christ opens the back door of our lives to bring us eternal life.