Swaddling Cloths

Luke 2:8-20
8And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke has masterfully set Jesus into human history by giving us enough information to determine that Jesus was an actual person born into human history by setting the historical context for the birth of Jesus. Yesterday we discussed the quiet simplicity of Jesus’ birth but today will be the opposite story. The birth of Christ is announced with great fanfare, shouting, and proclamation by heavenly angels. Interestingly enough though, is that this loud declaration is made in the quietest of settings – to the shepherds in the field at night. God reveals himself to the least expected in Israel.

The angel’s first words to the shepherds are “Fear not”. If I had been one of those shepherds I would have thought “are you kidding me. Of course I’m afraid. You’re an angel!” But those words carry far more weight than just an admonition to calm down because they weren’t in any danger. This phrase has theological implications as the Apostle John tells us in his doctrinal work in 1 John. For the faithful, the birth of the Christ brings an end to all fear. God’s salvation promise, made back in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15) has finally been realized.

1 John 4:18–19
18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because he first loved us.

I would suggest that these theological thoughts were probably not at the top of the shepherds’ minds, but that’s okay. We have the gift of hindsight and mediation and can see that truth as we study the Word.

If given the time, I always try to spend some time in research as I write these devotional blog posts. Today was a glorious time of discovery over this well-worn text. While I’m certain I’ve heard this idea before, I must say, this morning it rather blew me away. It has to do with the “swaddling cloths and lying in a manger”. I will never be able to read these words again without remembering the death and burial of Jesus Christ as He completes the work of dying for our sins.

He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities (Is 53:5). It should be carefully noted that the sign given of the Savior’s birth is not a child enfolded in Tyrian purple, but one wrapped round with rough pieces of cloth; he is not to be found in an ornate golden bed, but in a manger. The meaning of this is that he did not merely take upon himself our lowly mortality, but for our sake took upon himself the clothing of the poor. Though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9); though he was Lord of heaven, he became a poor man on earth, to teach those who lived on earth that by poverty of spirit they might win the kingdom of heaven.
The Venerable Bede as translated by J. McHugh, The Mother of Jesus, 89, from In Lucam I, (Corpus Christianoruḿ Series Latina 120.51–2).

“Can the threefold, deliberate phrasing in the Greek of, ‘wrapped him in cloth strip, placed him in a manger, because there was no place’ perhaps anticipate the same threefold rhythm of ‘wrapped him in linen cloth, placed him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had yet been laid’ (23:53) so that birth and burial mirror each other?”
L. T. Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, 53

In His very birth, Jesus foreshadows His own death. This infant came for a reason that was never forgotten or lost by God. While the fanfare over His birth is great, it also leads us to His death for our sins. The Christmas story rings with His crucifixion and we are saved.