Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Very Celtic Christmas -- Bruce Epperly

Christmas is on the near horizon and with it Christians contemplate the message of the incarnation -- that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God's self.  Bruce Epperly draws out the implications of the incarnation for us as God's children in light of Celtic Spirituality.  I think you will find this challenging and uplifting as we begin to celebrate this great event.  By the way, Bruce will be taking a break from this blog, but I would like to thank him for enriching the conversation as we pursue this faith journey.   Merry Christmas Bruce -- and to all!


A Very Celtic Christmas: 
Incarnation Really Matters
Bruce Epperly

Celtic spirituality joins heaven and earth.  It looks for “thin places” in every moment, encounter, and locale.  The world is the primary revelation of God, part and whole, and any place can become a theophany – a manifestation of divine-human synergy.  The body reveals divinity in its cells.  God seeks, accordingly, the healing of both cells and souls.  Salvation must include the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. 

Many understandings of incarnation promote the principle of discontinuity.  Although they claim Jesus is both human and divine, their theology bends toward Jesus as an anomaly distinct from humankind, rather than a human being fully alive who uplifts everything toward divinity.  In contrast, Celtic theology affirms the continuity of divine revelation and human embodiment.  Christ is, as John’s gospel proclaims, the word made flesh in all things; the light shines in all things, body, mind, and spirit.  Continuity, not discontinuity, saves and uplifts the world.

This is where the birth of Jesus comes in.  In ways that astound both old line conservatives and old line liberals, Jesus’ birth joins heaven and earth, bringing together experientially what is always present ontologically.  We don’t need to weigh in on a literal virgin birth to affirm that God was in Christ, reconciling the world.  Jesus’ conception, from a Celtic perspective, joins heaven and earth, call and response, and continuity and discontinuity.  Amid the universal presence of God, potentially making every place a thin place, God is also present in superlative ways in certain times and places.  The ever-present God can choose to be more present in certain moments and persons in accordance with the interdependent world of cause and effect.   Surely, Bethlehem and the relationship of Mary and Joseph was one of these places.

In the call and response of the God-world relationship, could Mary have been uniquely chosen?  Could God have joined obstetrics and revelation in the human conception of this child, deepening Jesus’ sensitivity to God’s vision and energy from the very beginning of his life?  Could God have moved more intensively in sharing God’s vision with Mary and Joseph both to accept the uniqueness of their child and to seek his protection from the forces of evil?

For the Celtic spiritual and theological tradition, Bethlehem and Nazareth are located in time and space, but they are also everywhere.  Following Pelagius, Celtic Christianity affirms the goodness of embodiment and human life.  There is always a point of contact between God and us.  Sexuality and parenting, not to mention diapers and skinned knees, can be portals to the divine. The star of Bethlehem shines in Jesus’ manger and it shines in our lives.

A Celtic Christmas awakens us to the Christ child within all of us.  Jesus is not a visitor from another planet or a supernatural God-man.  His birth invites us to see holiness in every child, including the child in us.  It calls us to treasure this good earth and our very fragile flesh as the temple of God, and to treat each child as revealing God’s love and wisdom.  Bethlehem opens us to incarnation, but also an ethic of care for every child and a recognition that who we are and what we become truly matters to God.  In the words of a British carol:

For He is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: AGuide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living,  Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.  His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He may be reached at for lectures, workshops, and retreats.

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