by Emily Cockran
As the Christmas season approaches, many of us will be adorning our windows with glittered paper snowflakes and filling our living rooms with the smell of pine trees. We often include at least one nativity scene among our other decorations, making sure to push aside our ceramic Santa figurines to make room for the reason for the season. We carefully place Mary and Joseph at the forefront while nudging the shepherds and animals to the side. Then, only after arranging everything to perfection, we place the empty manger in the center.
How comforting to know Jesus didn’t remain a baby in that lowly stable! Why should we include Jesus in the manger since He was a baby only for a short time? We really should include the empty creche in our homes to remind us that Jesus is no longer that baby at Bethlehem.
Hopefully those last few sentences seemed rather ridiculous. Not including the baby Jesus in the nativity scene would take away the significance of Christmas. Excluding baby Jesus from a nativity scene seems pretty foolish. In fact, we quite enjoy looking at the baby Jesus as He extends His chubby hands in curiosity, all the while trying not to picture that little hand being nailed to a cross. That little hand reaching out to touch the cold nose of the donkey is the same hand that would be pierced for every snide comment made about our relatives at Christmas dinner. We become uncomfortable picturing this, however, especially during the happy Christmas season.
Lent and Easter, meet Advent and Christmas
The gruesome imagery of the crucifixion raises an important question: Can we include crucifixes in Christian homes? Many of us aren’t sure whether an empty cross or a crucifix would better suit our home decor. Should we really have a reminder of Christ’s temporary suffering? Let’s face it: We feel far more comfortable looking at inspirational verses written on empty crosses than looking upon the sorrowful, dying face Jesus.
These issues give us an opportunity to discuss the place of the crucifixion in our lives as well as our homes. Since we celebrate Easter, many wonder if anyone should have crucifixes at all. Consider this: Did the empty cross pay for our sins? Well, not exactly. The crucifixion of Christ paid the ultimate price, not just His birth or resurrection alone. God sent His Son into our flesh in order for Him to die for our offenses; the peaceful manger scene didn’t pay ransom for our sins, nor did the empty cross of Easter. The cross only gained symbolism by having Jesus’ bloodied and beaten body nailed there to justify us before the Father. To be sure, the empty cross and tomb give us cause to rejoice, since Christ’s resurrection ensures our resurrection at the Last Day. However, the bloodied crucifix is that which shows us our sin and our justification before God, not the empty cross. Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:23 that “we preach Christ crucified.” He doesn’t say we should forget Christ’s death to focus on His resurrection, but he does say that we should proclaim how Christ’s very identity is wrapped up in His execution for our wrongdoings.
Furthermore, we live in the reality of the crucifixion by our Baptism. Paul tells us we’re baptized not solely into Christ’s triumphant resurrection, but into His bloody, scandalous death. If anything, the crucifixion gives us reason to celebrate Christmas! If Christ’s birth didn’t lead to His eventual crucifixion, then Christmas becomes merely a time to exchange awkward gifts while sipping peppermint hot chocolate.
So, should we have crucifixes in our homes?
Since Christ’s death paid for our sins, having a crucifix in the home seems pretty appropriate. But does that mean we should pitch our Hobby Lobby crosses? Certainly not! Don’t rip those inspirational crosses from the wall just yet. But do think back to the manger scene; we’d think it absurd to exclude baby Jesus because He wasn’t a baby forever, so would it also be a tad silly to avoid crucifixes because Jesus wasn’t on the cross forever? Empty crosses are helpful reminders of our Lord and His death for us, but we shouldn’t look to them to spare us of the gruesome reality of Calvary. While the crucifixion is uncomfortable to view, we are comforted by knowing we are declared righteous before God!
During the time of the first Christmas, a stable manger was just as ordinary as a cross. That which makes them significant for Christians is the body of Christ upon them. As we adorn our homes with Christmas cheer, let’s remember that Christ’s death gives us a reason to celebrate! Consider hanging a crucifix alongside those paper snowflakes or including a crucifix ornament next to that Styrofoam snowman your child made in kindergarten. Oh, and don’t forget the peppermint hot chocolate.
Emily Cockran teaches philosophy at Wittenberg Academy, which provides students with an online Lutheran, classical education.
*This article was originally published in the December 2015 The Lutheran Witness.