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Crossing the line

God’s emphasis on spirit and flesh goes back further than Christ in the manger


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“I’m trying to believe in reincarnation,” wrote my best friend from high school, when we were two years out from graduation and trying to figure it all out. If I’d had my wits about me—they were pretty scattered back then—I would have written back, “Let’s talk about incarnation.”

While celebrating Christmas as hard as it can, the world doesn’t think much about this doctrine. It’s very strange—nothing like it. And yet there’s nothing so oddly resonant, both in Scripture and in history.

For one thing, God breaking down the wall between spirit and flesh didn’t begin or end with a baby in a manger. Recall the two from Emmaus, rushing back to Jerusalem and encountering a buzz of excitement: “The Lord has risen indeed, and he’s appeared to Simon!” Everybody’s talking, speculating, repeating themselves over and over like TV pundits after big breaking news: Unbelievable!

Then Jesus shows up, and it really is. They think He’s a ghost! Or “spirit”—something profoundly uncanny and frightening.

“It is I myself. Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

He probably looks different—perhaps there’s something not entirely human about him. Still, there’s enough of Jesus to recognize. And something more to fear. This is not the man they knew, who walked the dusty lanes with them and broke bread with them and talked with them for hours. It’s not (quite) the man who suffered and sighed, bled and died.

And yet it is that man—times infinity.

They can’t believe at first because they have never seen anything like it. No one has.

And yet, in a way, it isn’t new. That seed, planted in the virgin about 33 years earlier, that microscopic marriage with a human egg—this unimaginable union of God and man they see before them—started back then.

But no …

Those genealogies, those tedious “begats,” casting the bloodline back through centuries from Joseph to Heli to Matthal to Levi to Melchi and so on, all the way back to Adam. It must have started then.

But no …

Remember when God bent down and breathed life into a mound of clay, and man became a living being? Surely it started then.

But wait …

Even further back, the Spirit broods over potential. The Word trembles on the brink. Time and place have yet to be; all is bliss and glory, filling the infinite. The Glory has something in mind, and even though there’s no word for it, we’ll call it all things: each particular, after-its-own-kind animal, vegetable, and mineral.

As conceived in His mind, “all things” are made of particles so tiny that learned men in the yet-to-be future, with all their subtle instruments, will not be able to understand what holds them together. But in the mind of the Maker is a line at the frontier where matter and spirit meet and the universe begins.

With a “Let there be,” the future Son of Man crosses that line and brings forth all things.

“It is I myself. Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

And flesh and bones—as we’ve always experienced them—don’t live forever. But this flesh and bones will.

We have to go back in order to go forward. He takes them as far back as “man became a living being.” Then forward through the law and the prophets, and they begin to see that, in Him, all things hold together.

Soon after this, Spirit will cross another line. With wind and fire He will rush upon them, as He rushed upon Samson and Saul in the old days, only not to work God’s will through them but to be God’s will in them.

The Father speaks, and light appears.

The Son enters a human egg, and incarnation happens.

The Holy Spirit pierces a wall of flesh, and indwelling begins.

He loves a good story, they say. By crossing that line at the birth of time, He began the greatest one of all. And it’s not over yet.


Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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