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We get that the sweet baby in the manger is the mangled man on the cross, but still, at Christmas, there are some images we simply don’t want to see.

Every Week I Design Our Bulletin Covers

I have a subscription to a church clipart website, but I can’t stand to use their generic bulletin covers. They look fine, but they don’t feel fine. They don’t connect to my messages or the hearts of our congregation. The covers simply occupy space.

Other churches have a design person on staff. Here, I am that person. I take some time to find an image and caption that fits with my message and put them on the cover. It’s not a burden. Really, it’s a chance for me to do something creative and create something I think is beautiful. I don’t get many comments about the bulletin covers, but I don’t do it for the comments.

I do hope they enjoy them, though.

All through December, I’m preaching on “The Birth of the King.” It’s a Christmas series from the Gospel of Mark, focusing far more on the cross than the cradle. I know in my heart, “the sweet baby in the manger is the mangled man on the cross,” but putting it together in an image this week proved to be difficult and disturbing.

The image I was working with was an idyllic manger picture of a baby surrounded by white blankets and hay.

But the text, on the other hand . . .

The text was one of Jesus’ three predictions of his death from the Gospel of Mark. It’s an honest and painful explanation of what lay ahead as he prepared to enter Jerusalem.

Taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”


– Mark 10:32-34

I didn’t want to see it

I didn’t want to see the image of that baby boy next to a passage where that man talks about his soon-coming suffering and death. The juxtaposition of the image on the screen and the image in my mind was too much for me to take. How on earth can we celebrate a birth knowing it leads to such a horrible death?

And yet, every Sunday, we do celebrate. We began the service that Sunday with some Christmas songs, but they led us to a table where we spoke of a broken body and spilled blood. The cradle and the cross are both parts of Jesus’ crown.

What I finally arrived at was a cover that I could live with. I loved the dual undertones of the word “delivered.” From Mary in the stable to Jesus in the garden, both uses carry connotations that connect and impact in powerful ways.

Living to Die bulletin cover

We sing the song “Ring the Bells” every Christmas at our church. Within the lyrics is the line, “Born to die that man might live.” If Jesus was born to die then that long trip with his disciples through Mark 8, 9, and 10 shows that he was living to die.

Does anyone notice the bulletin covers?

A few weeks ago, I did a funeral service for one of our saints. I was given his Bible to rummage through and find verses he had highlighted and notes he had made. It was humbling to find a few very old bulletins, with notes on the covers. I want to think the images reinforce the messages I preach. I know they did for that man, and I know they often do for me.

Living to Die

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