And thus the malevolent terms of the deadly compact are annulled, and through the injustice of an overcharge the whole debt is cancelled. The strong one is bound by his own chains, and every device of the evil one recoils on his own head. When the prince of the world is bound, all that he held in captivity is released. Our nature cleansed from its old contagion regains its honourable estate, death is destroyed by death,nativity is restored by nativity. — St. Leo the Great, Sermon XXII On the Nativity
This particular quote brings to mind the icon of the Nativity, specifically the depiction of Christ:
Note that His bed is a tomb and that His swaddling clothes are burial wrappings. St. Leo reminds us that the Nativity is intimately linked to the crucifixion.
In many ways, we have forgotten the divine irony of the Cross. It was an instrument of extreme torture so heinous and humiliating that the Romans reserved it for the lowest of the low — outsiders and criminals. It was beyond the imagination of the Romans to subject a Roman citizen to crucifixion — it was just too horrible. Yet, we see the Cross as life-giving.
Let me put this another way: every time we cross ourselves, we are marking ourselves with the instrument of Christ’s torture and death. Herein is the power of God and the wonder of the Nativity. From the beginning, Christ was to go to the Cross. Some three hundred years prior to the invention of crucifixion, Psalm 22 describes it in detail:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The words of my groaning do nothing to save me. My God, I call by day but you do not answer, at night, but I find no respite. Yet you, the Holy One, who make your home in the praises of Israel, in you our ancestors put their trust, they trusted and you set them free. To you they called for help and were delivered; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, less than human, scorn of mankind, contempt of the people; all who see me jeer at me, they sneer and wag their heads, ‘He trusted himself to the Lord, let the Lord set him free! Let him deliver him, as he took such delight in him.’ It was you who drew me from the womb and soothed me on my mother’s breast. On you was I cast from my birth, from the womb I have belonged to you. Do not hold aloof, for trouble is upon me, and no one to help me! Many bulls are encircling me, wild bulls of Bashan closing in on me. Lions ravening and roaring open their jaws at me. My strength is trickling away, my bones are all disjointed, my heart has turned to wax, melting inside me. My mouth is dry as earthenware, my tongue sticks to my jaw. You lay me down in the dust of death. A pack of dogs surrounds me, a gang of villains closing in on me as if to hack off my hands and my feet. I can count every one of my bones, while they look on and gloat; they divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. the Lord, do not hold aloof! My strength, come quickly to my help, rescue my soul from the sword, the one life I have from the grasp of the dog! Save me from the lion’s mouth, my poor life from the wild bulls’ horns! I shall proclaim your name to my brothers, praise you in full assembly: ‘You who fear the Lord, praise him! All the race of Jacob, honour him! Revere him, all the race of Israel!’ For he has not despised nor disregarded the poverty of the poor, has not turned away his face, but has listened to the cry for help. Of you is my praise in the thronged assembly, I will perform my vows before all who fear him. The poor will eat and be filled, those who seek the Lord will praise him, ‘May your heart live for ever.’ The whole wide world will remember and return to the Lord, all the families of nations bow down before him. For to the Lord, ruler of the nations, belongs kingly power! All who prosper on earth will bow before him, all who go down to the dust will do reverence before him. And those who are dead, their descendants will serve him, will proclaim his name to generations still to come; and these will tell of his saving justice to a people yet unborn: he has fulfilled it.
Christ became a babe to accomplish this — to intimately connect Himself to the agony, suffering and death of one of the most heinous forms of execution ever devised by man. All this in order to turn it all on its head — to turn it right-side up — and make this instrument of excruciating torture and death into a font of everlasting life.
What a paradoxal miracle! Behold, the life-bearing plant, the all-holy and precious Cross, is appearing on display and is carried aloft today. Now all the ends of the earth do glorify, and all the demons are greatly terrified. Oh, what a gift is this that to mortals has been granted! Hence, O Christ the only compassionate, do thereby save our souls. — Lauds from the Exaltation of the Cross