About theodavis1

I'm an aspiring urban gardener, (very) amateur jazz pianist, and budding storyteller. I work with college students through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Arizona State University - they're going to change the world. I live in a world of endless possibilities. I follow Jesus and thus my life is never boring.

Advent

A few weeks ago, my church had an Advent party. “That’s silly” I thought, “It’s just a Christmas party under another name.”  Just another old thing repackaged.  Soon after, I realized that the party was on December first, several weeks before Christmas but quite close to the start of Advent.  I had never really celebrated Advent officially – at least not that I could remember.  The party was the first of the many Christmas time gatherings I attended this year; it set the tone for me this Christmas.

Upon further reflection, I realized that intentionally starting a new season a certain way or with a specific mindset or focus is considerably rare for me.  In the past ten or fifteen years, three things have decided for me that the Christmas season will begin.  The first is school. I know you have experienced the feeling of final exams preventing the “official” start of the holiday break.  It’s like the semester holds you back from fully experiencing Christmas until you’re finished.  Second, I think many times the weather decides when Christmas would begin.  Granted, I’m from snowy Phoenix, Arizona but it still gets cold (68 degrees is cold right?) and cold means that Christmas is approaching.  Chilly weather makes you think of a white Christmas.  Finally, the media and retailers definitely let me know when the season of Christmas is approaching, sometimes as early as October.

There is nothing wrong with these markers, but depending on them can mean we stumble into the Christmas season. If we take a passive approach to the seasons of life, we open ourselves for others to choose for us what to value.  School begins to tell us that we cannot celebrate the coming of Christ until all our work is done. The weather says this week is definitely part of the Christmas season but the following week is still fall because it’s too hot.  Retailers and the media have decided for you that this year, Christmas is about what you want and not about worshiping a newborn King.

Taking hold of our time is extremely significant in the life of a disciple.  Actually taking the time and energy to choose to engage with the season regardless of how we feel, what is happening in our lives or what our peers are doing helps us to open up our lives to where God is active around us.

In Exodus, the Lord commands the Israelites to take a Sabbath.  Most of us grow up knowing the ten commandments and the command to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” is generally forgotten amidst the rest.  However, this idea was revolutionary to the recently-enslaved Israelites.  A command to rest had many implications to the work-abused people of God.  It moved their concept of time from an endless stretch of brick-making days to a rhythm of weekly rest mirroring the pattern of their Lord and rescuer who rested on the seventh day.  Hidden within the command to remember the Sabbath is to engage in the season of life you are in.  Currently, we find ourselves in the season of Advent.  What would it look like for you to engage with that season this week?

Remember the Advent party I attended? It got me thinking, what does it look like to engage in the Advent season?  I began to reflect and I invite you to do the same.  There is no right way to begin.  It is enough to begin to reflect on the theme of Christ coming to earth as a baby.  So take some time with Jesus today and explore that theme.

If you need some more direction, take a cue from the Anglican Church.  During the four weeks of Advent, Anglicans focus on several different themes in association with the coming of Christ.  The first week focuses on the second coming of Jesus.  The second week on John the Baptist’s call to repentance before the coming of the Lord.  The third is the theme of expectancy – John preparing the way for Jesus.  The final week looks at the birth of Christ, the incarnation.  Some of these themes might seem strange to engage with during Christmas time, but Christians for hundreds of years have been reflecting on Scripture surrounding these themes.  Join with them this year contemplating different aspects and realities of the birth of the baby Jesus.

If you don’t choose how to reflect this advent season, someone will choose for you; maybe the media, your childhood experiences, or your pastor.  These people or institutions might be helpful or harmful, but at the end of the day, we need to let God lead us through the seasons of our lives, and that requires our active engagement with those seasons.  Since we are in the season of Advent, I invite you to engage more deeply, in a way that is personally meaningful for you.  Maybe that means reading through the birth story multiple times.  Or it could mean looking at the liturgical readings for advent (follow the link below).  It could mean just taking the time to stop and reflect on the magnitude of the God of the Universe becoming an infant.  What you do isn’t as important as doing something to engage in this Advent season.  Blessings in your endeavors.

Recommended Reading:

Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross

http://www.bookofcommonprayer.net/lectionary.php

Who are the poor?

Have you ever had one of those moments when a speaker says something that shakes you to the core, leaving you thinking about his or her comment for days and weeks to come?  I was shaken this way recently when I heard a speaker say “The poor are anyone who can’t cope with life.”  When I think of the poor, I generally think of people in other places that don’t have money or about people in oppressive circumstances.  These generic definitions don’t include me at all, so the idea that I might be in poverty was shocking. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I can’t cope with life in various ways from time to time.  Fear, loneliness, anxiety, responsibility, and yes, sometimes money and oppressive circumstances leave me unable to cope. I don’t want to diminish the extreme examples of poverty in our country and others that I, from my socio-economic status don’t come close to experiencing.  However, I believe that Jesus engaged with many different kinds of impoverished people from socially impoverished lepers to the spiritually impoverished but religiously powerful Pharisees.

I work for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Arizona State University (InterVarsity is a ministry to college students).  My job is highly relational and highly administrative.  For all the face time I get with students, there is a lot of planning, calling, emailing, and prepping.  I dislike administrative work immensely.  It’s hard for me.  During last school year, there were many times I would be planning for a leadership meeting and feel stuck, at a loss for where to go next in the planning process.  Then I’d feel silly and slightly ashamed that something so (seemingly) trivial could cause me such duress.  I was sitting at my computer one afternoon planning for a few meetings I had that week as well as drafting a talk I was giving soon.  I switched from project to project writing a few words here and there but, getting bored and distracted, anxiety creeping in, I was feeling terrible that I was so bad at my job.  When my wife came home and asked how my day was, I was so mad at myself for being a captive to administration that I didn’t want to share with her.

Am I really poor if I get anxious because of administrative tasks?  Isn’t that belittling the issue compared to the suffering of so many?  Isn’t this just a silly, trivial story?  In light of the extreme examples of poverty around us, we have to ask where is the threshold when our suffering “makes the cut” and God sees our impoverished state?  What does Jesus have to say about my administrative challenges?

Well, if our definition of poverty is being unable to cope with life, then yes, I am in poverty and you are too if you’re honest.  I was left defeated, ashamed, and feeling lost by my Gmail inbox.  As embarrassing as that is, it’s true.  There are countless other examples from our lives than can be identified as poverty; some are just acknowledged more by society.  If Jesus recognizes a wide range of impoverished people, how does he respond to them?  If you, like me, find yourself unable to cope with life, what does that mean for us as followers of Jesus?

In Luke, Jesus quotes Isaiah 60 to begin his ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”  He goes on to say that he will heal the broken, and free the captives.  Jesus came for the poor, specifically to heal and set free.  If we don’t count ourselves among the poor, can we experience this transformation?  I did tell my wife that I had looked at my computer for three and a half hours that afternoon but got no work done at all.  In admitting my need, I allowed Jesus to begin the process of transformation.

What happens then, after Jesus the doctor has begun his healing work?  Isaiah goes on to say that those healed and set free were transformed so “that they may be called oaks of righteousness” and that “they shall repair the ruined cities.”  When I am in the midst of my poverty, all I can think about is getting by; my goal is the bare minimum.  All God thinks about when I’m in the midst of my poverty is all he wants me to become. God turns those who were broken into mighty oaks, deeply rooted and able to stand on their own. He turns former prisoners into artists: the repairers of ruined cities. We are not healed so we can limp around, barely functioning; we are healed so we can be as sturdy as a mighty oak.  We aren’t set free so we can get by; we are set free to create. These pictures, echoing from the creation story, show a God who can transform the poor into a blessing for others.

The question is, do you have the courage to hope with God, for yourself and those around you, that Jesus’ transforming power can turn prisoners into artists and the broken into mighty oaks?

The most challenging aspect of this passage is that if we are followers of Jesus, then we, like him, have to “bring good news to the poor.” As inadequate as we may feel being in poverty ourselves, Jesus is inviting us to tell others who are poor – everyone around us – of Jesus’ transforming power as we ourselves continue to be transformed.  If we acknowledge the poverty in our own lives, how much more clearly can we see it in others and tell our story of healing and freedom through Jesus?  Then we will be a community of artists and a forest of mighty oaks “that [Jesus] may be glorified.”