On December 12, 2014, Nice-Matin featured the Nativity scenes on display in the village of Lucéram, 20 miles away.

For the past 17 years Lucéram has displayed a variety of crèches, great and small, to the public. As one can see from the photos, children are not only happy to see them but they come to better understand the Christmas story in so doing.

Yet, a number of Protestants dismiss such displays as idolatrous. They also condemn crucifixes and stained glass windows.

It is worth remembering that it was only in the 20th century that most of the Western world learned how to read and write. Prior to that, with nearly everyone attending church on Sunday, people in Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches learned the Bible from the imagery around them as well as from what they heard from the pulpit in Scripture readings and sermons. However, until the Reformation, what came from the priest’s and choir’s mouths was in Latin, leaving out most of the congregation who could not speak or understand it properly. Is it any wonder that images pervaded as teaching tools, not idols to be worshipped?

A Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor, the Revd Karl Weber, writing for The Brothers of St John the Steadfast, has a post called ‘Contending for Crèches and Crucifixes’.

Whilst acknowledging the Old Testament prohibitions against graven images, Weber states:

The prohibition against graven images seems simple enough until we realize in Scripture God commands Israel to make graven images for the Ark of the Covenant and serpent on a pole and is pleased with those which adorn Solomon’s Temple. I know eight examples where God commands or is pleased with the making of graven images. A quick look would be:

Weber tells us that Martin Luther had statues of Mary and other saints at his church in Wittenberg:

as an aid and devotion to thank Jesus for his mercy toward us.

He cites a quotation from Luther who stated that it was:

a good practice to hold a wooden crucifix before the eyes of the dying or to press it into their hands. This brought the suffering and death of Christ to mind and comforted the dying.

Weber goes on to discuss the not uncommon dislike of viewing an image of Christ on the cross:

Perhaps our discomfort with crucifixes is in part because it shows what we did to Jesus (cf. Is 53:1-6).

He then addresses the Protestant meme of an empty cross as being the sign of the Resurrection (emphases mine):

Mistakenly many think an empty cross is a symbol of the resurrection. Remember Jesus was raised from the tomb and not from a cross. He was taken down from the cross. In reality though, it is the empty tomb that symbolizes the resurrection. Some may contend the fair linens adorning the altar underneath Christ’s body in the bread and blood in the wine symbolize the discarded grave clothes and these may point to the resurrection. Our Synodical Catechism rightly teaches the miracle of the resurrection points to Jesus’ greatest miracle where he redeemed the world on Good Friday. The Catechism does so with question 145: “Why is Christ’s resurrection so important and comforting? Christ’s resurrection proves that … C. God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice for the reconciliation of the world.”[3] The crucifix reminds me that judgment and death are the consequence of my sins (Rom 6:23) and that may be why Christians are discomforted seeing one.

To those who say that our Lord is not currently present either in the crib or on the cross, Weber replies:

in Christian freedom we may employ the artwork of a crucifix to lovingly teach and remind us of the great love and mercy Jesus has for us when he took our sins upon himself and shed his blood to release us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. And we may employ the artwork of baby Jesus in a crèche to lovingly teach and remind us of the incarnation that it was our flesh and nature and that of no other that Jesus took upon himself to so identify with us and be our savior.

He concludes:

As Christians we can joyfully embrace both a full crèche (manger) and Jesus on the cross. The crèche speaks of the beginning work of salvation while the crucifix points to the work of salvation. One reminds us that Jesus became fully man for us and the crucifix reminds and teaches that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins thereby emptying the grave, Satan, and sin of their power. You are free and fully forgiven my friends! Rejoice!

Thank you, Pastor Weber!

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