Sarx

“The Word [Logos] became flesh [sarx] and lived among us”

If you make it to a carol service this year then there is a good chance that you will hear these words read.

This phrase is from the opening paragraphs of John’s Gospel – a dense and glorious piece of theological, philosophical, ancient-but-living literature. Whether you are a Christian or not the opening of John’s Gospel is well worth a read. Reading this bit of John feels to me a bit like this scene from the first Dr Who with Chris Eccleston: taking a moment to feel the spin of the Earth, falling around the sun…

Anyway, back to John’s Gospel!

I don’t want to get too heavy with Greek words, but there is something important happening here that I don’t want to miss. And I can’t get to my point without introducing you to my two Greek friends Logos and sarx.

Logos [The Word] is a great, grand, sweeping idea in first century philosophy: it literally means ‘the Word’, but as an idea it is talking about the Meaning, the Purpose, the Organising Power of the universe (all capitalised). Sarx [flesh] is a word with much less developed thinking around it. When it pops up in other passages in the Bible it is translated variously as ‘flesh’, ‘body’, ‘animal nature’ (sometimes with a negative tone – i.e. ‘human nature/sinful nature’). God-ness and body-ness. The big word we use for this is ‘incarnation’ – enfleshment, being bodied, God with skin on. (Check out This post for a bit more on this). John 1 captures an essential, and radical, part of the Christian understanding of Christmas: how the birth of Jesus was a world shaking meeting of the Logos and the sarx.

The idea that God became human in Jesus is massive. But I actually want to press this a little harder, because I think the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Because there is much more to sarx [flesh] than just being human. John doesn’t just say that the Word became human – he says sarx. There were words that he could have used to say ‘human’ but he didn’t, he says ‘flesh’. Why?

Partly he is making a point about the humility of the incarnation. The stepping down, the incredible and outrageous descent from glory. Sarx is a gritty word, an earthy word. John is pairing it with Logos for the juxtaposition – he wants you to do a double-take.

But sarx is also there because the incarnation is about more than just humanity. John uses sarx [flesh] because The Word became matter. Flesh and blood – a living creature – molecules and chemistry. Atoms. For Christians – for me – celebrating Christmas is about standing in awe and wonder at the moment when the Purpose, the Meaning, the Light, the Reason and Order and Source – the One who was there ‘in the beginning’, and ‘through whom all things were created’ stepped down and became part of the creation. The incarnation doesn’t debase Jesus, it lifts all of creation up. This is why we don’t just see shepherds and Wise Men in the manger scene – the animals are there too, not as incidental extras but because they are part of the action!

This quiet, humble moment when a young woman gave birth in Bethlehem was when God was at work to reconcile (re-connect) all of creation through Jesus. Humans and animals, plants and planets, rocks and water. In Jesus, the Divine and the material meet – and nothing is the same again.

The renewing and redeeming of the oikos of all Creation is begun.

Merry Christmas!

Published by oikoslife

I am married, father of 2 young children (2014 and 2017), pioneering priest in the Church of England, surfer, climate activist and much more. Born in Yorkshire, and currently living on the Yorkshire Coast. Doing my best to live in good connection with God, self, neighbour and creation - working it out as I go.

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