The Word/s Made Flesh; or On the Incarnation in Four Movements

In the beginning was the word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

St John begins his Gospel at the beginning (an appropriate place to begin it seems). Unlike the other Gospel accounts, however, which begin with Christ’s incarnate beginning (ca. 4 bc,) St John’s account takes us further back to the very beginning of the created order itself (in whenever bc). Beginning at this beginning takes us back to the beginning Beginning, Genesis 1, where Moses tells us that God created the heavens and the earth. What we learn, however, from St John is that this God that created the heavens and earth wasn’t a lonely God creating out of boredom or need. There was both is-ness and with-ness in the Godhead. The Word was both God and with God. God’s Word is God Himself. So, there was God and his Word, a speaker and speech; but there can be no speech without Breath to carry the speech, a Spirit to enliven the Word. What we find then is that creation is a Trinitarian work. God creates all things by His Word through His Spirit.

Note how God creates. He speaks: ‘Let there be light.’ ‘Let there be an expanse.’ ‘Let there be dry land.’ He says and there is. In the beginning, the word became incarnate. God said let there be light and there was light. His word ‘light’ became a physical object, became en-fleshed in photons. Let there be an expanse and there was. His word ‘expanse’ became enshrouded in the physical. ‘Dry land’ became dry land. All created reality is an incarnation of His word. Tables, quarks, higgs-boson particles, quasars, cumulonimbus clouds, fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains are all God’s spoken word. (What’s more, the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that all things, literally all things, are upheld by the word of the Word’s power such that if God were to stop speaking His Word, there’d be nothing again.) You and I too are His Word, enlivened by the Spirit. Let Us make man, he said, and it was so.  He speaks our very existence at every moment of that existence. Carrying us along by his Breath, just as he did in Adam. Truly, in Him we live and move and have our being. This is a first, creational incarnation.

This creational incarnation, this true, beautiful and good creational incarnation of his word, however, isn’t the incarnation, but a pointer, in types and shadows, to The Incarnation. Christ, the Word, became the fulfilment of that creational incarnation, by becoming the Incarnate Word. All this, as we ought to expect, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit shall overshadow you, Gabriel tells Mary, and you shall conceive. This incarnation is a re-creational incarnation, overturning the fall of the original incarnation of God’s word. This en-fleshed Word doesn’t succumb to the wiles of the enemy, bent on overturning the word (who even twists, again, the Word of God to his own purpose). This Incarnate Word triumphantly and incarnationally rose and physically ascended to his throne. Note again, the Trinitarian work of redemption, this re-creational incarnation, viz, The Spirit empowers the Word in His work from Virgin birth to Spirit empowered re-birth from the grave.

This isn’t the end of the story or of incarnation; for He sends His Spirit at Pentecost to unite his physical people to his risen, en-throned body (his body) and to each other in the Church (his body). In uniting His Body to his body, he is incarnate by the Spirit in the world He intends to re-create. The Church, his new Temple, His en-fleshed earthly hands and feet and eyes and ears, united mystically to Him, is the agent of this re-creation. He makes himself known through his incarnate body. He tells both the sheep and the goats that we meet him by meeting him the physical persons of the poor. We give Him water, Him food, Him clothing, visit Him in the prisons. He meets us in the physically spoken word, empowered by the Spirit, and in bread and wine transformed by the Spirit, uniting us further and further to each other and to Himself. This is a third, covenantal incarnation, mediated yet again by the Triune God; by the Spirit who works in the Word to bring about the full redemption of all that for which The Incarnate One died and rose.

At our death, we will be planted in hope. A hope of being re-incarnated. Our bodies will dis-integrate, returning to dust. We will become undone, dis-incarnate, dis-connected to the physically bound word that kept us whole. This state is emphatically not the yes and amen of the Father’s promise to re-claim and re-unite all things in His risen and glorified Incarnate Son. In the end, just as in the beginning, we are to be incarnate beings, re-in-fleshed in glorified bodies, because we are united to Him who is the Incarnate Word. Our bodies, in that great mystery, are united to his body, both his fleshy, risen body and his body, his bride, the Church. Dry bones breathed on by the Spirit, resurrected to new life. Finally, in His glorious return, in that risen incarnate body, He will complete the work He created in the beginning, conceived that winter morning, confirmed in the resurrected body, covenanted in His body the Church, and consummated at His Return. This final, consummated incarnation, is the glorious hope of the Christian.

All the by the power and love of the Triune, speaking God; by the Father’s Spirit breathing out the Incarnate Word/s, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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Josh Spears