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The Manger and the Cross

by: Archpriest George M. Benigsen

"The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." These words from the first chapter of St. John's Gospel describe the Nativity of Christ in its eternal and mystical meaning. The Word that was with God and was God and "all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made." The Logos, which is the Greek original for the Word, represents the essence, the reason, the wisdom, the creative power and strength, the Word through which God created the world out of nothing. When God says, "Let there be," another book, the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, speaks about it. This Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, today lies as a small defenseless child in the manger from which the animals eat, in the cave where the animals stay during stormy weather. The Word became Flesh, and this was possible only because humanity prepared for Him one of our kind, the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. She became a link between God and man, between heaven and earth, between the Old and the New Testament. That is why the Church pays her such high homage, because it was from her that the Word received flesh, through her that the Word became Flesh. 

And Bethlehem became a place where heaven and earth met; God and man met here face to face. The One whose generation was rooted in the eternal unity of the Holy Trinity found for Himself genealogy in time, in history, so that having been born in Bethlehem, He would be born in the human heart. As is said in St. John's Gospel: "All who received Him, He gave power to become children of God." God revealed Himself in Flesh; therefore, this event is called the Incarnation. 

Andrei Rublev, the iconographer of Holy Russia, painted by his heavenly brush the icon of the Holy Trinity which contemporary theologian and thinker Father Paul Florensky, who died the death of a martyr, once said represents proof of God's existence. The three angels, the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, sit around a heavenly altar, fully immersed in a silent council concerning the pre-eternal sacrifice of Divine Love for the salvation of the world. The Lamb of God lies in a chalice on the altar. The Trinitarian decision is expressed in St. John's Gospel: "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son so that all who believe in Him would not perish but would have eternal life." This is the pre-history of Christ's Nativity, the Incarnation of the Son of God as it happened in history. This is where the heavenly threads reach from the manger in Bethlehem to the eternal Kingdom of the Holy Trinity. 

"He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not." For Him "there was no place at the inn" of Bethlehem, where, doubtless, there was enough room for the Roman soldiers, the enslavers of His people, Israel. There was room for those who were dressed in rich garments, for those who had enough money in their pockets to bribe the innkeeper. When the scrolls of the history of the world will be rolled up, the last words will be this sad line: "There was no place for Him at the inn." 

When a child is born, they like to say that he resembles his mother. Here, for the first and only time in history, one can say that the mother resembled the child, in Whose image she was created. It happened only once in history, when there was no need to look up at heavens when the Child rested in her arms, the Virgin Mary gazed down at heaven. In the filthiest place on earth, in a stable, a perfect beauty He was born, the One who will later be led like a sheep for slaughter, was born among the sheep. The One who later called Himself the Bread of Life came from heaven‹to a place where animals came to eat. 

"There was no place at the inn." But there was a place in the stable and in the manger. The inn is a place where public opinion reaches its stormy heights, the center of earthly moods, the meeting place for the people of the world, the popular ones, the achievers. The stable and the manger are the place for the despised, the rejected, the forgotten ones. If the world would truly expect the Birth of Christ, it would naturally look for Him at an inn. The stable and the manger would have been the last place they would look for Him. This is exactly why they don't find Him. The Divine is always there where only few hope to find Him. 

The incarnate Son of God had to enter His own world not through the front entrance but from the back door. He was born in a manger, a cave, actually under the earth. There, He shook the earth to its foundations. He was born in a cave; therefore, all who come to Him must stoop, thus signifying their humility. The proud ones refuse to stoop, and, therefore, pass by and miss God. However, those who know how to humble their ego do stoop and enter, and suddenly find themselves not in a cave but in a new universe, where the Child sits in His mother's lap and His frail Child's fingers rule the whole world. 

The Manger and the Cross are located at two poles of Christ's earthly life. He accepted the manger because there was no place for Him it the inn. He accepted the Cross because His people shouted, "He is not our king! We have no king but Caesar!" No one welcomed Him at His entry into the World, and He was rejected when leaving the world. At the beginning He lay in a manger owned by an anonymous man; at the end, in a stranger's tomb. From the very moment of His birth, He carried the Cross, the only Cross fit for a Child, the Cross of Poverty, Exile, Deprivation. 

The representatives of only two classes of humanity found the newly-born Child: the simple and the wise. The first ones knew they didn't know anything, the second that they didn't know everything. Those who think that they know everything never see God. Even God doesn't have anything to say to the proud. Only a humble heart can find Him. "The Nativity of Christ our God has shown to the world the light of wisdom." Let this light of wisdom, which shown in the darkness of the night in Palestine and in the gloom of the cave of Bethlehem, shine in our hearts. "God is with us"!

Broadcast to Russia over Radio Liberty on January 7, 1987