I know – you are most likely thinking what a strange way to start a Christmas greeting. Well, let me explain.
“And Mary 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.” Luke 2:7 (KJV)
What exactly are swaddling clothes? Have you ever thought about it? First thought may be that as a baby leaves the cozy and warm womb and enters the cold, cruel world, a mother would instinctively wrap up her newborn very snugly in a dry warm blanket to protect her child from the cold. Sure, that would answer the question.
But what if there were other possibilities?
Just five verses later, Luke records what the angel of the Lord said to a group of shepherds watching their sheep near Bethlehem:
“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12 (KJV)
So how would the shepherds know what this sign meant and what to look for? It is possible this group of shepherds were not an ordinary group of guys. They most likely were the “Levitical shepherds” who raised the lambs that were used by the Levi priests in the temple for sacrifices. These lambs were required to be without blemish.
Any guesses how the shepherds keep the lambs “without blemish”? They would swaddle (wrap) the lambs in priestly clothes. Thus the term swaddling clothes! How cool is that?!!
But one question remains. What were Mary and Joseph doing with priestly swaddling clothes? Do you remember who Mary went to visit during her pregnancy? Priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth (in the lineage of Aaron)! Zacharias had recently learned, while doing his priestly duty of burning incense in the Holy of Holies in the temple, that he and his wife would have a child (Elizabeth was barren) and his name would be John [the baptizer].
After Mary learned from the angel she would be the mother of Jesus, she
“arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” Luke 1:39-44 (NKJV)
Mary spent 3 months with Elizabeth while both were pregnant. I suspect Mary learned details in having a baby (she may have been present when John was born) and, most likely, Elizabeth and Zacharias provided her with swaddling clothes, knowing she would give birth to the Lamb of God! Later on John the baptizer would refer to Jesus as:
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (NKJV)
So, indeed the shepherds knew what the sign, given by the angel, was all about. And when they saw this baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger,
“they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” Luke 2:17b (NKJV)
The shepherds completely understood how the swaddling clothes were keeping the Lamb of God pure and without blemish. And they were so excited they could not wait to spread the Good News to everyone they saw.
We, too, can now more fully understand that Jesus Christ is our perfect, sacrificial Lamb who died on the cross in our place, taking on our punishment for our sins so that we may reconnect with our heavenly Father and be in relationship with Him as his adopted children. How amazing is that!!
I pray that you, too, will catch the excitement of sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ, our Sacrificial and without blemish Lamb of God, who came into this world to save every one of us from our sins.
Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!
For a few more details on this possibility, listen to Rabbi Jason Sobel.
The movie, The Shepherd, can be seen here.