“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High… The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:31-32, 35)
The experience and understanding of the Holy Spirit is elusive. The Hebrew ruach and Greek pneuma, the biblical words for “spirit,” are also translated “breath” and “wind.” “The pneuma blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Pneuma” (John 3:8-9). “As you do not know the way the ruach comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything” (Ecclesiastes 11:5).
It’s understandable that the Holy Spirit is difficult to understand. The Trinity is not easy for us to conceptualize. One God in three Persons? Each Person irreducibly distinct from the Others as a way of being a Person (the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father) yet each Person fully divine and the whole God (the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, consubstantial and coeternal)? Mutual indwelling, the Father in the Son, and the Son in the Father? It’s no wonder that we wonder at the Holy Spirit! (We call him “Holy,” partly because he is so Other, and it’s a way to express what is inexpressible.) “Should not the contemplation of the mysteries of our faith be a delight, especially if the contemplation is that of the immeasurable and unsurpassable font of all the mysteries—the most holy Trinity?” (Thomas Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship).
In Luke’s Gospel, when the angel Gabriel visits young Mary, we hear of the Holy Spirit as “the power of the Most High” who will “overshadow” Mary as the cloud of the glory of God’s presence overshadowed God’s people, Israel, in the wilderness, and descended upon the tabernacle and, later, the temple. The Spirit is God come to the meeting place between God and his people. In Ezekiel’s vision, he saw this Spirit-glory-cloud depart the temple, only to return later in the New Temple. Now, the Spirit-glory-cloud comes upon Mary as the New Temple, the new meeting place between God and his people, is conceived in her womb.
This conception was a New Creation. The Son had his divine existence in the Godhead, eternally begotten of the Father through the Spirit. Now he had his human existence in an analogous way, created by the Father through the Spirit. Jesus, the Incarnate Son, had no earthly, biological father. The Spirit is not Jesus’ Father. The divine Father was the creator of his new humanity, and that through his power, through the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life. He is the Gift of the Father that brings forth Life. The Life that he brings forth, supremely, is the Son. The Incarnate Son is our Life (John 14:6; 1 John 1:2). The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus. He gave Jesus to the world in his conception, the beginning of the New Creation. Jesus is unique because of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was the lavishing of the Father’s approving love upon Jesus as he pledged solidarity with sinners at his Baptism (Luke 3:22). The Spirit descended upon Jesus at the waters of his Baptism like a fluttering dove, hovering over God’s New Creation just as he had hovered over the face of the waters in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1-2).
The Spirit led Jesus, our Champion, to recapitulate our battle with the devil, this time victoriously (Luke 4:1-2). The Spirit anointed Jesus to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:18). The Spirit was the one through whom Jesus rejoiced in prayer to the Father (Luke 10:21). It was by the Spirit of God that Jesus cast out demons (Matthew 12:28). It was in the Holy Spirit that Jesus offered himself to his Father as a sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 9:14). And it was by the power of the Most High, by the Holy Spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead (Romans 1:4).
“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6). It is because of the Holy Spirit’s work upon the Incarnate Son and through the Incarnate Son that Jesus is Life to us. Jesus is Life to us by being the New Creation for us. His New Humanity is ours, as a gift of God’s grace, a gift given through the Holy Spirit.
The breath of God that made the first Adam a living being, that made the last Adam a life-giving spirit, is the Breath that Jesus breathed out upon his disciples (John 20:22), giving us his own Life so that we may live on his behalf in this world. “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). God, at work through the Person of the Holy Spirit, says, “Jesus,” for the life of the world. A Spirit-filled church, then, will also say, “Jesus,” for the life of the world. The Life-giving Breath of Christ is in our lungs and on our lips. Amen.