Editor’s note: This is the sixth post in a series commenting on the first words of Christ as presented in the Gospels.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Lk 4:18–19)
He stands up. He is handed the scroll. He unrolls the scroll. He begins to read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
This is how Jesus begins his ministry according to the Gospel of Luke. After his baptism, after his forty days in the desert, he goes back to Nazareth, steps into the synagogue, and announces to us that he is the Bearer of the Spirit of the Lord.
And indeed, earlier in that same fourth chapter, Luke says that Jesus was “filled with the Holy Spirit;” that he was “driven by the Spirit” into the desert; that he returned from the desert “in the power of the Spirit.”
One time I saw an icon of the face of Jesus and noticed a strange feature. His face looked puffy. I was told that this was in fact no accident. It was the iconographer’s way of indicating that Jesus was indeed filled with the Spirit.
What is this Spirit which fills Jesus—which encompasses him, drives him, comes forth from him?
We are introduced to this Spirit at the very beginning of the Scriptures. In the second verse of the entire Bible, we are told that at the beginning of creation, the Ruach Elohim was moving upon the surface of the waters.
Ruach Elohim: the Spirit of the Lord.
Lest we picture a refreshing sea-breeze, it should be noted that the verb of this Spirit’s movement can also be translated as “vibrated.” As it moved upon them, the Spirit of the Lord was vibrating the primeval waters. In fact, some argue that Ruach Elohim itself can be translated as the “storm of God” or as a “terrifying wind.” Before any of the rest of creation came to be, a fearful Wind-Storm of God—that One whom we call the “Holy Spirit”—was thundering across the dark waters of the earth.
This is the Spirit of which Jesus is the bearer. And this Spirit-bearing is not just a feature of his earthly mission. His entire infinite life with the Father is within this Spirit. From all eternity, he and the Father live within this Divine Wind-Storm.
Speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus therefore reveals himself as “Storm-Bearer.” He is both one who brings this mighty wind and one borne aloft by that wind, driven from heaven into the world like a person who has been driven by a hurricane into a different land—or, as St. Basil would say, as the Eternal Word borne on the Holy Breath of the Eternal Father.
Following this announcement, Jesus then continues to recite the passage of Isaiah. He says, “the Lord has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
These actions are what happens when this Spirit of the Lord descends upon the world. Suddenly, things begin to change. Things move. It turns out that the whole world is like one of those fields with a thousand windmills on it. Each of us was made to be activated by this Spirit. For a long time, that field was still, immobile, dead. But with the arrival of the Spirit-Bearer, that field begins to move, begins to come alive.
Forever, Jesus is the bearer of this Spirit of the Lord. If we welcome him into our lives, we necessarily also welcome the Spirit into our lives.
This is both a consolation and a warning. We can be consoled to know that this Spirit will indeed begin to change our lives, like a wind making a windmill turn. But we should also be forewarned that it may sometimes feel like we have been visited by a mighty storm.
For such is the Spirit of Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit.
Image by Timothy Ah Koy