Advent Calendar Day 4: Jesus Christ

Great American bard Woodie Guthrie was a tireless voice in the wilderness his whole life, crying out for the poor and the oppressed and preaching against fascists, plutocrats, and anyone else he saw doing the oppressing.  He also helped lay the foundation for modern American folk music, invented the concept album, and established a powerful musical legacy that endures to this day, and will endure when we who read these words today are to dust returned.  He walked the dusty roads between Oklahoma and California, learning the songs of the folk who survived the Dust Bowl, and he sang what he saw.

When Guthrie turned his hand to explaining what Jesus meant to him, he borrowed the tune from a ballad about another murdered outlaw, the guerilla terrorist turned bandit Jesse James.  Another man who took the side of the poor over the side of the downpressor man (so the legend goes, anyway), and was betrayed by a comrade.

As for the words, Woodie Guthrie told the story the way it felt to him.  As a communist in Depression-era America, Guthrie saw Jesus in a certain context.  I don’t doubt that, if Guthrie ever tried visualizing what those old-time Israelites must have looked like in the days of the Roman occupation, his mind’s eye took inspiration from the Okies he knew travelling those lonesome western highways.  I don’t think this instinct could have possibly led him too far astray from the mark.  The Christ of the Gospels is a Christ of dusty travel, lonesome spaces, weary companions, and hard-biting loneliness sometimes, a man of a hard time in a hard land full of hard and hard-worn people.  Certainly, the final verse rings with prophetic truth.

This song was made in New York City
Of rich mans, and preachers, and slaves
If Jesus was to preach what like he preached in Galilee,
They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.

Don’t doubt it.


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