There is an ancient Celtic belief, taught to us by Eriugena, that salvation happened primarily through the incarnation rather than the crucifixion. It was the bringing together of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, creator and creation, that healed the world. Jesus is the celestial physician, the healer of the material universe, and he came to a world which was very sick. The world was out of balance (and still is) and the incarnation restored balance (and it stills does).
The cure for our spiritual illness is incarnation. It is by bringing the body and the soul into harmony that health is restored to the individual and it is by bringing the materiality of the world into harmony with the peace of Heaven that health is restored to humanity as a whole. Perhaps this is why Mary sang her famous magnificat in anticipation of Jesus’s arrival. Her prophetic prediction about Jesus’ birth was that he would do as God has always done. She said,
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.”
This is very reminiscent of the words of John the Baptist who spoke of the coming of the Lord like this,
“Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.”
The reason for Jesus to be born was clear to both these prophets who foretold his coming. God was coming to earth to set things straight, to bring our material culture in line with spiritual truth. The rulers of the world are the rich people who oppress the poor and they are the mountains which will be made low. The humble and poor are the valleys which will be raised up. There is a lack of balance in our society and Jesus came to make the crooked roads straight, fill in the gaps, and cast down the mighty. The incarnation was to restore balance and balance is what it means to be healthy.
And so Jesus is the great physician and harmony is the medicine our world needs. We need to bring our bodies and our souls together rather than hate our bodies for the sake of our souls. We need to work towards healing our broken society rather than assuming life on earth is a write off and will always be wicked. As heirs of Jesus’ divine incarnation, we are the physicians now. We must work to heal the world. The medicine Jesus gave is slow acting by human standards. We have come a long ways towards understanding the illness which affects us and we have already made great improvements towards healing it. But there is still much work to be done.
If we wish to heal the world we must first heal ourselves. This is why the teaching of healing vices by their opposites is so essential in Celtic Christianity. The idea of contraries is what Mary and John were describing. It is a way of seeing the places where mountains and valleys are causing illness and counteracting them with their opposites. If a mountain is too high, it needs to be made low. If a valley is too low, it needs to be lifted up. It’s a very simple but profound teaching.
So, my dear sisters and brothers, this Advent I encourage you to consider how the coming of the long expected Christ brought balance, how the rulers of the world responded to his message, and how we intend to respond to it today. How can we live out incarnational theology in our own lives? What mountains do you stand on? What valleys are you stuck in? How can we, as God’s people, heal ourselves?
If you enjoyed this article, please share it on your favourite social media or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more about Celtic Christianity and Contemplation, check out some of the free videos from our virtual retreat: Sacred Spaces: Contemplation and the Celtic Spirit.