This Sunday Christians around the world will begin celebrating the season of Advent. Advent marks the time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas as well as the return of Jesus at the Second Coming. Even as commercialized and commodified as this time of the year has become, for the faithful there is still a sense of theological grounding and wrestling that this time of year provides. As theologian, I am particularly curious as to what American churches will find to examine in this contemporary moment when once again Empire is forcing the weight of its power on Black and Brown bodies. The inhumanity of our southern border and the lack of hospitality to the neighbor being examples of the ways our time is being defined. Ethical and moral failure seem to be the hallmarks of the day and in this context, we must draw fresh understanding of the meaning of Advent.
Identity and theology are inextricably linked. Our prophetic God-talk arises from a hermeneutic of hunger, whether or not we want to admit it. A hermeneutic of hunger reads the Bible as an answer to what all forms of oppression bring to bear on human dignity. We read the sacred text to answer the questions that burn deeply in our souls. Theologies develop in response to questions arising out of specific intellectual, political, and religious situations (Cone 2018). This is why the work of the theologian is always a work of self-disclosure. It has not been suspicion that turns people away from the church; it is hunger that drives them to seek help wherever their rights to have a life are being respected (Soelle 2001). As a constructive theologian with a liberative lens, working and living in these times, I am forced to wrestle with the question what does it mean for Jesus to have come and to come again for those of us living in America under this particular administration. How will our liturgies and preaching orient our parishioners to live into the Gospel of Jesus in this present age? What will the Church offer to the world as a religious insight to resist all forms of domination and oppression?
As I think through these questions the answers seem to emerge from the lived reality of Jesus himself. Our celebrations of Advent must center the story of Jesus who is born a poor Palestinian Jew under Roman occupation. The economic predicament with which He was identified in birth placed Him initially with the great mass of people on earth. The masses of people are poor. If we dare take the position that in Jesus there was at work some radical destiny, it would be safe to say that in His poverty He was truly the Son of man and the Son of God (Thurman 1976). How can we seriously believe in the baby in a manger Jesus and not see His connection to the children being ripped from their parents at our own southern borders? If Jesus coming in the flesh is to hold any meaning this Advent it must mean that His coming makes visible the poor, disinherited, and dehumanized among us. The text cannot be understood apart from the world it creates in the imagination of the hearer, our job is to interpret the text in life giving prophetic ways so that the Advent has real meaning in this present world (Townes, Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope Salvation & Transformation 1997).
This Advent must be a time to query our Christology where we invite the church to interrogate the communion table to discover the blessed, broken body of this Jesus (Luke 22). Through this constructive theology we ask the present liberation theologies to make room for all those bodies among the pews who are broken in many places—where systems of oppression have denied their full humanity. What if the Second Coming of Jesus is centered in postcolonial crip-theology (in conversation with crip theory), which takes seriously the beauty of disabled bodies and features non-normativity as its central project? Can we prepare our hearts to do the work of fully living into the story of Jesus or will we continue to reify and privilege the authoritative universal voice found in Eurocentric theological musing? This theology does not abide an undifferentiated whole that obliterates individuality. The authoritative universal voice usually indicates white male subjectivity masquerading as nonracial, non-gendered, objectivity (Crenshaw 1989). Hegemony maintains that this inequality is seen as normal and right. Hegemony also works to keep the dominant group in power by promoting its own worldview as neutral, universal, and moral (Townes 1995). Such has been the case with theology produced by the dominant culture in most American churches. And those who embrace this theology in non-dominant spaces suffer from oppression sickness and collude with the hegemonic forces that silence prophetic witness.
Advent could be the season of prophetic reckoning in our nation. Theology could be the force to demand the death of imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy. As over 100 women have been elected to congress and we see our indigenous siblings finally recognized at the congressional table, perhaps we are seeing the beginning of Jesus return, when the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord and of our Christ. What if from our pulpits this Sunday there comes a bold proclamation that Jesus is at the Mexican border and the United States of America won’t let Him in?
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Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Cone, James H. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Crenshaw, Keberele. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1): 139-168.
Soelle, Dorothee. 2001. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.
Townes, Emilie M., ed. 1997. Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope Salvation & Transformation. Maryknoll: Orbis.
—. 1995. In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spiriutality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon Press.