One of the most frequent questions we are asked is: “Why does Messiah have a crescent moon on its steeple?” The unspoken part of the question, I think, is related to the controversy surrounding a crescent moon found on a well-known manufacturer’s label that some claimed was a satanic symbol. While I will not enter that controversy, except to join the manufacturer in denying the claim, I can assure you that the symbolism contained atop our steeple is thoroughly biblical.
As I cross the Market Street bridge every morning on my way to the church, my eyes are always drawn skyward in admiration of our magnificent spire. Turning the corner from Market Street onto Southern Avenue, immediately my eyes fall upon the cross of our Lord cradled in the embrace of his mother, the Virgin Mary. This is precisely what the crescent does– it cradles the cross and is a symbol of the Virgin Mother of God.
We, Lutherans, together with other Christians honor the Virgin Mary for the role she played in salvation history. Of all people, she was chosen by God to bear his Son into the world, but we also insist that the honor due Mary comes precisely from the significance of her Son. He is the Messiah born of the Virgin Mary. Just as the moon shines brightly in the night sky for no other reason than it is reflecting the magnificent light of the sun, Mary shines brightly in the history of our salvation because she reflects the glory of her Son. Her glory is borrowed from “the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ.”
Orthodox Christians have a marvelous tradition. The Virgin Mary is never depicted without her Son cradled in her arms. Lutherans agree with this impulse of the iconographers. As Luther said, “It is true, Mary is praiseworthy and never can be extolled enough…..Yet we should laud and praise her in such a way that we do not let the Infant she has born be torn from our eyes and hearts, nor should we consider the Treasure born to us (Jesus) of less importance than the mother (Luther’s Works 34 II, 500.)”
The crescent has special significance for us. “Messiah” is the name of our congregation. As we look to our steeple, may we offer our praise to God who uses ordinary means to come to us–water, bread and wine. Surely God could have chosen others ways to enter into our world as the Messiah. Instead he came to us by the simple means of a woman, Mary, the mother of our Lord, and died for our salvation upon a cross, only to be lowered from that cross and once again cradled in the arms of his mother.
Robert L. Driesen, Former Senior Pastor, 1987-2007