The Cross from the Creche

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by Acabas

We received a very curious Christmas card.

Mary is tenderly holding the sleeping Christ child, her veil a crimson red. Behind her is the cross, and an owl peering out from over her shoulder.

It is not unusual to have Mary caressing her newborn infant Son in greeting cards at Christmas time. However, the imagery around the Mother and Child seem all wrong.

Mary is dressed in red. Red often stands for the Holy Spirit, but it also represents blood and suffering,  of Christ’s passion and of martyrdom. Placed in the context of the nativity, it reminds us that this is no ordinary child being held by a mother. Her garment is a foretaste of the sword that will pierce her heart.

The Cross.  Philippians 2:7-8 remind us:

“He emptied himself…coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance, he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

Our Christmas celebrations sometimes conveniently leave us to stay at the manger scene, while to understand the full meaning of the Incarnation, we must reach beyond the tenderness of the creche to the Cross. Some of Christmas’ finest songs still remind us of the ‘why’ of the Word made flesh:

Nails, spear shall pierce him through

The cross be borne for me, for you.

Hail, hail the Word made Flesh,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!

 – What Child is This, verse 2

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume

Breathes of life of gathering gloom

Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying

Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

– We Three Kings, verse 4

The Owl. This bird of prey has various meanings in Christian art. Sometimes it symbolizes darkness and Satan. It can be a symbol of wisdom, and depicted sometimes with Saint Jerome. Also, it is a sign of Christ and His sacrifice, and is at times depicted in scenes of the Crucifixion. Why is the owl there, then? Is it foreboding of the sorrow and suffering to come? Or is it a sign of hope of what is gained for all mankind through Christ’s sacrifice and death?

The overall message of this Christmas greeting is provocative, jarring us out of our sentimental notions of the nativity and shepherds adoring the babe King on a starry night. For it is a poignant reminder of God’s purposefulness; it calls us to contemplate more deeply the Word made flesh, and how he was born into our existence to raise us up to our original state of relationship with God. And to do that, there must be the Cross.

Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus! With Mary, the Mother of the Savior, let us contemplate His coming.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women in the Sacramento Diocese, and on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is also the local vocational director for her religious family. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, playing with new media, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.[/author_info] [/author]

Sr. Lisa Marie

Sr. Lisa Marie

Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women, and providing on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is a director of youth and young adults at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in the Diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the national director of the Association of Lay Canossians, and regional coordinator of vocations for her religious family. She also gives retreats and talks on various religious topics. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, learning guitar, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.

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8 thoughts on “The Cross from the Creche”

  1. Avatar

    What a beautiful card and reflection. I completely agree that Christmas is not just sweet/sappy sentmentality – the baby Messiah came to suffer and die for the ugliness that is sin. That tends to resonate with me more than the fluffy joy of some carols. If I could buy a box of these cards I would!

  2. Avatar

    A beautiful rendering.

    Is not the owl, the desert owl, the same sometimes translated as the pelican as in the pelican in the wilderness of Psalm 102:6? If so, then we may be being asked to consider the wilderness sufferings of Christ and His Holy Mother which begin, in a certain sense, even at His Birth.

  3. Avatar

    Thanks, Sarah … to look beyond the creche also helps us to use our Advent preparation in its more full sense, to contemplate the Christian mysteries as a whole, in the midst of our human condition: birth and death; tenderness and violence; adoration and rejection; sacrifice and selfishness. Then the blessed Light of the Savior shines, and repairs everything. It almost makes me long for Lent 😉

  4. Avatar

    Thank you, Owen. It hasn’t occurred to me, but yes, Psalm 102:6 does speak of the pelican (King James) and desert owl (NAB), both signs of desolation. That is why the owl is at times present in Crucifixion scenes. To have the owl present in the nativity takes the sentimental sweetness and jars us with a dose of reality; there is much more than a sweet child sleeping in a box of hay; he will one day sleep on the cross. It makes me aware of how joy and suffering are intertwined in the life of Jesus and His mother. They are one and the same thread.

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    I keep the manger and Christ child figure from my Nativity creche at the foot of my crucifix throughout the year as a reminder that the Word became Incarnate to Redeem us.

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