Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Advent Meditations from the writings of Henri Nouwen

I can't imagine a Roman Catholic congregation, say St. Agatha's or St. Andrew's located near-by in Upper Arlington, selecting an advent devotional booklet prepared from the writings of Martin Luther or John Calvin, but Upper Arlington Lutheran Church distributed "Advent Meditations from the writings of Henri Nouwen," a prominent Roman Catholic priest who died in 1996. Even if he weren't Catholic, when his writings are sliced and diced and packaged like this, they make no sense. For example:

"Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there." What does that say? What does it mean? Could you rephrase it? Could you apply it?

"Christian community is the place where we keep the flame of hope alive among us and take it seriously so that it can grow and become stronger in us." I don't know where your hope is, but mine isn't in the Christian community. My Christian community isn't why I can "live with courage" or "live without surrendering to powerful forces seducing me toward despair." Huh?

After observing that Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah were all waiting, Nouwen says, "We too can wait only if what we are waiting for has already begun for us." I think I understand all the components of this essay on waiting, seed, growing, nurture, promise, but why does the actual Bible make more sense than the meditation on it?

The problem here, is the problem I have with most writing by Catholics. It's very pretty; it's devotional; it's awe inspiring; some is even powerful. But there's no gospel. That's where the power is; that's our hope.

The clarity of Luther's voice is surely apparent in his Advent and Christmas preaching - the Lord's Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, the preaching of John the Baptist, the annunciation, and the nativity. Showing remarkable theological insight and pastoral warmth, Luther crafts vivid and graphic pictures of the meanness and misery of the biblical stories of the Lord's birth. All the great themes of Luther's theology - incarnation, justification, the "happy exchange," sacraments, the theology of the cross - are present in these sermons. Advent and Christmas evoke the best in Luther's preaching as he proclaims Bethlehem's crib in light of the cross. Ulrich Asendorf rightly notes that "Luther's Advent sermons are a microcosm of his spiritual world."
Ulrich Asendorf, "Luther's Sermons on Advent as a Summary of His Theology," in A Lively Legacy: Essays in Honor of Robert Preus, edited by Kurt Marquart, John Stephenson, and Bjarne W. Teigen (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary, 1985), 13.

No comments: