Michael Stewart: The Unlikely Bookends of the Manger and the Cross

The image of Christmas is perhaps the image of the manger—tattered blankets and tufts of hay nestled in a quaint, wooden trough, now a makeshift crib.

It would no doubt fail modern standards of baby cribbing, not to mention sanitation inspections given its prior use. Yet it was fit for the Bethlehem baby and was more than a useful convenience or a necessary stopgap. It was the God-ordained sign signifying a Savior.

The manger, a rough structure unfit for humans, much less a king, would mark our Savior’s entrance into this world. It is a bookend, part of a corresponding pair marking the life of Jesus. For He also exited this world upon a rough structure unfit for humans, much less a king. One structure, the manger, the enduring image of Christmas; the other, the cross, the enduring image of Easter.

Like bookends facing opposite directions, yet an undeniable pair, consider the relationship between the manger and the cross.

The Manger The Cross
A structure designed to hold the food of common animals A structure designed to hold common criminals
Received the Messiah, wrapped in swaddling clothes Received the Messiah, stripped of all His garments
Jesus flanked by his two parents Jesus flanked by two robbers
A sign to draw shepherds A sign to draw all mankind
A place where common men came to worship A place where rulers came to sneer
As Christ lay there, the dark night was pierced by heavenly light As Christ hung there, the sun was obscured by darkness
Shepherds returned from there “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them” (Luke 2:20) “The crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts” in anguish (Luke 23:48)
In Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread”; at Jesus’ birth, there was declared peace on earth In Jerusalem, which means “City of Peace”; Jesus died during the Feast of Unleavened Bread

The Manger and the Cross of Christ: Symbols of Celebration

The manger and the cross are unlikely symbols of celebration. To give them places of honor would have been beyond odd for first-century tastes.

Mangers are feeding troughs

…and not the aesthetically pleasing, carefully repurposed pallet designs we see on display today. They were likely not even wood, but roughly hewn stone boxes whose design focused on function—holding animal fodder. In that function, the manger found itself surrounded not by well-dressed wise men, but by the waste of animals.

Crosses were not fashionable jewelry or signifiers of church buildings. They were machines of execution. Imagine modern equivalents.

What would the world make of a group of worshipers intent on revering a hangman’s noose?

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Source: Church Leaders