Dr. William Mitchell, Oklahoma Baptist University professor emeritus of English, recently released the latest edition of his popular Christmas volume, "Tribute to the Advent." Mitchell said he expects this fourth edition will be the final update to a project which started 39 years ago.
The book started in December 1973 as Mitchell sat at his desk addressing Christmas cards to fellow OBU faculty members. He had purchased a box of cards with a "peaceable kingdom" motif. As he looked at the illustration on the cards over and over, he thought of a line of poetry, which he quickly wrote down:
"In that kingdom where a little child
shall lead us, force and love shall be at home,
He finished the poem - which is included in "Tribute to the Advent" - and wrote it in each of the cards. Every year since then, he has written a poem to send to friends and family at Christmas. Each work starts out on a yellow notepad, later to be typed and revised before publication. Mitchell said his poems often deal with finding a deeper meaning in the popular scenes of Christmas during a time of year that can become "mechanical."
"I began thinking of characters in the original story and what it meant to them," he said. "For example, the stable boy working at the inn gave up his own bed. They defined themselves by what they did."
He said the poems reflect a deep spiritual search on his part, seeking to understand what God intended with the incarnation. He delved even deeper into what theologians would call the "problem of the incarnation." He searched the Old Testament for clues on what was happening in man's relationship with God. He said as he probed, he gained insights into the Advent.
"I have discovered something about the various participants in the original Advent drama," Mitchell wrote in the book's preface. "The coming of Jesus seems to have presented each of them with the demand to respond in some sacrificial or sacramental way. If they did so, they were themselves transfigured into something new and holy. Thus even in the cradle Jesus called those whom he encountered to redefine themselves in his own image, as he continues to do for all who genuinely encounter him."
Mitchell approached Jim Brown, OBU professor emeritus of music, to draw an illustration for each poem. Steven Hicks, OBU professor of art, provided a calligraphy rendering of the biblical Scripture which carries the theme of each entry.
The first volume of the book was released in 1990 and sold out. The second edition was released in 1998 and included additional poems with the corresponding illustrations and calligraphy. For an expanded third edition in 2000, the publisher suggested a paperback format which required an additional 100 pages. Mitchell went to his files and added poetry, paraphrases, dramatic monologues and ballads based on Scripture. That volume was titled "Voices of the Advent and Other Voices."
Mitchell retired from OBU in 1996. Two years later, his wife, Dorthy, died. They had been married 49 years. Mitchell was ordained as a minister at age 68, and he served as a pastor for several years.
"I didn't cut any great swath as a pastor, I suppose, but it was something I was called to, and it was gratifying," he said.
Eleven years ago, he married Mae, who had been widowed after 50 years of marriage. She served alongside him in his pastorates in Colorado and Oklahoma until he retired. They have joined First Baptist Church, Shawnee, where Mitchell first joined in 1958. If God calls them, they are willing to be back in church ministry.
In the meantime, Mitchell's ministry continues through the release of his heartfelt book.
"I will be 79 shortly, and I find myself reworking earlier themes in the collection, so I suspect this will be the final edition," Mitchell said. "I really want (the collection) to survive for the sake of the illustrations. Jim's illustrations are so striking and so sensitive to the tone of each poem.
"What I have learned is that the incarnation of God in Jesus the Christ is the statement of all Scripture, the source of peace and strength in human experience, the essence of God's purpose toward his creation, especially toward his human children," he wrote in the fourth edition's afterword.
"Tribute to the Advent" is available for purchase online at http://www.amazon.com/ and http://www.crosstimbersbooks.com/, where Mitchell's autobiographical work, "My Life Before the Fire," and his novel, "Hiding Amy," also are on sale.
As part of OBU's 2009 Homecoming Celebration, Mitchell will be part of a book signing Friday, Nov. 13, at 10 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 14, at 11 a.m. in the lower Geiger Center.