We go immediately from the the secular, civic celebration of Thanksgiving to the deeply quiet divinity of Advent. There is no thanksgiving, nor celebration, and for American Christians God feels far away. I know because in response to the ongoing situation in Ferguson, Missouri I have repeatedly witnessed the following sentiment from Christians on Facebook: “Jesus just isn’t getting through to us.”[^1]
Let’s leave beside the fact that this is a reductive statement that discounts the complexity of American racial issues and the nature of sin. Let’s also leave unanswered for a moment the following questions: what Gospel, which Jesus, what message, whose interpretation?
My immediate response to this sentiment is no kidding, do you think he’s gonna get through to us? I don’t know what magical way people expect Jesus to use to get in touch with us, but it probably ain’t gonna happen in a morally superior Facebook comment. My utterly polarized social media feed, which thrashes me back and forth between emotionally fraught opinions, political stances, and activist outcry, is certainly evidence that hardly anyone is undertaking a quiet inward or outward search for Christ.
But it’s appropriate that God feel distant at Advent. The Old Testament lectionary text for Advent1 is Isaiah 64:1-9. The divine felt distant for Isaiah too. He implores God to tear open the heavens and come down, to make the presence of the divine known when it so often is hidden. He also knew, as we do, that the winds of current events and public sentiment pull us away from the divine attitude and that those who call on the name of God are few.
Not a big surprise at this time and in this place that Jesus isn’t getting through to us. For that we’d have to listen. But to whom? Well, it's Advent and we're looking forward to the incarnation of God. So we better do this listening incarnation style. If we listen, really get low and listen to our fleshy, frustrating neighbors who make errors[^2], who suffer, who hunger, who thirst, who reside in prison,[^3] who rage, who burn, who pray on the street, and who mourn the loss of their sons—if we listen to them we might hear Jesus whispering to us from his lowly birth in the manger.
Or go ahead and turn up the volume on the Christmas tunes. Maybe Jesus is kickin' it there.
- [^1]: Actually, this is a direct quote.
- [^2]: Read, “sin”
- [^3]: Matthew 25: 34-40