The 12 Myths of Christmas #5

MYTH 5: THE DETAIL OF SWADDLING CLOTHES IS UNIMPORTANT 

Aren’t all babies swaddled? Isn’t this just an unimportant detail? Of course Mary would swaddle her baby! Some would argue the operative word in the verse below is “manger”. But take another look.

Luke 2:

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

“City of David” and “manger” were the WHERE. “Messiah—or Christ—the Lord” was the WHO. “This day” was the WHEN. “Great joy to all people” was the WHY. To sum up what the angel said is this: “The Messiah was born in Bethlehem today. YAY!”

There only remains the WHAT.

The swaddling clothes. That was the WHAT. And it is the most important detail, indeed, the operative word in this passage. 

I doubt if the shepherds knew what this meant at all at first. They knew it meant SOMETHING, but they had to go see it to understand it. 

And when they found Him, I wonder if they still understood everything. It is said that hindsight is 20/20. Could they have seen the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and understood that this baby was swaddled in the very same way that they, the Levitical Shepherds, swaddled their own newborn lambs as they preserved them for Temple worship? Did Mary use the shepherds own lamb cloths?

And could they have understood WHAT they were observing? Read on in Luke 2:

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

If “all that heard it wondered,” did they shepherds not even know the symbolism? It appears they did not. 

We, in our 20/20 hindsight, see the rich symbolism of The Lamb of God wrapped in a lamb’s swaddling clothes. One day Jesus would be the last sacrifice. He was spotless, and He died instead to us to pay for our sin.

Did the shepherds understand that, symbolically, The Bread of Life was lying in a feeding trough, or manger, ready to feed His sheep with His own body one day? 

And could the shepherds have seen the rich symbolic parallel of strips of cloth that would one day encircle His broken body after He died? Wrapped at His birth. Wrapped at His death. Free of them at His resurrection. Who could have known? 

I think they knew SOMETHING huge had happened in the very fact that the angels appeared to them. That the Messiah news was given to them FIRST. That their job was to tell EVERYBODY. Even if they didn’t fully comprehend the import of everything they heard and saw, they and everyone they told “wondered.”

Ah. But Mary treasured it all in her heart. She did not fully see the WHAT either, no doubt. But she would one day. 

The shepherds too, if they lived thirty-three years more, would have heard how Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem as they had witnessed, was crucified, wrapped in strips of cloth, and then rose again leaving the strips of cloth in place—like a cocoon. It was no doubt then THEN they fully understood everything.

When all those years later they would have heard that John stepped into Jesus’ empty tomb, it was just the sight of the cloths which caused him to believe. He believed that Jesus rose from the dead. He did not believe someone unwrapped His dead body. He must had seen a difference in the way they lay. 

John speaks of himself as “that other disciple,” when he and Peter first discovered the burial cloths.

John 20:

Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.

So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,

And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

So, swaddling clothes were a mere detail, just like every baby? No. The difference was in the details. The symbolism. The mystery.

This Christmas, in our 20/20 hindsight, let’s wonder at the wisdom of God as he planted clues for the shepherds to follow the one true Messiah—Jesus. Like the shepherds, let’s tell everybody what we have seen and heard.

And let’s glory in the grace that God told this news first to just regular folks like you and me and the shepherds, the amazing, symbolic, astonishing message that the Messiah—the Son of God—was born in the City of David and wrapped in a lamb’s swaddling clothes.

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