Dec 15th to Dec 21st – Advent Week 3: The Reward & The Promise

Reading: Chapter 5 – The Reward; Chapter 6 – The Promise (p. 91 to 133)

The mystery of life is that Jesus came to suffer with us so that we could be joyful. He didn’t come so we wouldn’t suffer but so that we could taste
the eternal life, that lasting joy that is of God, that is already
in this world, already now, already precisely here.
– Henri Nouwen p. 104-105

Thanks to each of your for another wonderful week of sharing. Many of you mentioned Henri’s emphasis on the first love or the original love. Henri’s understanding of the first love deepened in the years after these talks in 1985. He recognized that the words Jesus heard at his own baptism–“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”–are the ultimate manifestation of God’s first love. Perhaps Henri’s core spiritual insight is that the words Jesus heard are equally true for each of us as children of God. In 1992 Henri put it this way, “‘You are my Beloved’ reveal(s) the most intimate truth about all human beings whether they belong to any particular tradition or not.” (Life Are the Beloved, p. 30.) Our challenge is to claim our belovedness and to live it out daily. And the way to do that is by following Jesus.

This week we conclude our reading of Following Jesus. Having reflected on who we follow (Week 1) and how we follow (Week 2), this week we explore the reward and the promise of following Jesus, or why we follow. Jesus came that his joy might be in us and that our joy might be complete. (Jn 15:11). Joy is the reward for following Jesus. And our joy will never end since Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, has promised, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20)

As we rapidly approach Christmas, it is a time for celebration. As Henri writes, “Celebration is, first of all, living out of joy. Celebration is what we are called to.” (p. 106). I found these to chapters to be particularly exhilarating. You may want to celebrate with us by responding to one of these questions or by sharing your thoughts and insights prompted by the reading. We are also grateful for those reading and following along silently.

1. In Chapter 5 Henri writes about an icon of the Risen Lord by Andrei Rublev that became the centerpiece of his chapel at home at Harvard. Henri brought this icon with him when he moved to L’Arche in 1987. Henri writes, “By praying to the Lord of history, and by following the Lord of history, you will be drawn into the mystery of God’s eternal love.” Below are photos of Henri’s altarpiece and Rublev’s icon that I took this spring at L’Arche Daybreak north of Toronto. Place yourself in this chapel. Pray with this icon. Share what you experience.

Altarpiece and icon in Henri Nouwen’s chapel at L’Arche Daybreak

2. A recurring theme of Henri’s work is the presence of God in our world today. In Chapter 6 he writes, “We have to live fully in the present, because God is always the God of now, of here. . . . The great art of spiritual living is to pay attention to the breathing of the Spirit right where you are and to trust that there will be breathing of new life. The Spirit will reveal itself to you as you move on. That is the beauty of the spiritual life.” Take some time for yourself to sit with the Spirit in these hectic last days before Christmas. Be quiet. Be present. Breath deeply and slowly. Listen. . . . Listen. . . . Be grateful for the your time with the Lord. If you are willing, share your experience.

3. As always, we’re interested in hearing how the issues Henri brings up connect with your own experience.

In these last days before Christmas, Henri offers us a great gift. May we all take some time to savor it and share with each other.

We’ll return next Sunday for a wrap-up for those that are able to join us. I want to take a minute now to thank each of you for sharing your Advent journey with us. May you follow Jesus each day for the rest of your lives. And may you and yours have a blessed and joyous Christmas.