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The Incarnational Element

John writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus as the Word was the first of his grand metaphors, except that it wasn’t actually a metaphor.

A metaphor functions only when we say that X is Y, yet we know that X is not Y. A metaphor is actually a lie. That is why metaphors have power; they make our imagination work.

But, to say that Jesus is the Word is only metaphoric on the surface: X (a man) is not Y (an element of speech). But when Jesus spoke, as the incarnation of God, each of his words was Word. Everything he uttered was God’s Word. Thus, X (God speaking with a man’s voice) is Y (the message of God).

The Word of God delivered through the voice and person of a woman or a man, also has an incarnational quality, similar to Jesus’ incarnation. Karl Barth urges preachers to understand that their words become God’s Word when God shows up to inspire them and bring them to life as Word.

Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when the preacher speaks, it is as if Jesus himself stepped down from the pulpit and walked among the people. The power that this implies is mindboggling.

If their carefully wrought human words become God’s Word and the vehicle for the spiritual presence of Jesus, they are not merely playing with language. They are playing with dynamite. What may push us toward sheer terror is the final step in this equation. If the preacher’s words become the Word, then he or she is the physical bearer of the Word, a partner in the incarnation of Jesus.

This weighty realization ought to foster, in addition to seriousness and prayerfulness, a desire to convey the message well so that the Word has meaning and reception. That means more than using the mind and voice. It requires bringing the entire body into service as a living, breathing, instrument of the Word.

If the preacher writes a meaningful word in the study, the next step is to turn that ink (or those computer pixels) into blood in the pulpit. The blood courses through the entire person of the one called upon to be that moment’s incorporation of the Word of God.

How do preachers accomplish this? How can we bring our entire person into service of this task? How can we stand and read a message prepared during the week and make it come to life? We employ techniques; mastering voice, breath, gesture, and movement. And we succeed in this endeavor by committing to the rigors of the craft while engaging in them with submission and humility.