Interesting insight from my devotion that I read today. “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
The word “swaddling” has fallen into the dustbin of unused terms. It is still a viable term concerning the care of infants. While some translations simply use the word “clothes” or “cloths,” others misuse the word “rags” for that in which the newborn Savior was wrapped. The Holy Spirit specifically selected the term “swaddling” – it is used only twice in the New Testament (sparganoo, Luke 2.7, 12), because of it's use among shepherds.
This was the common practice of the day – to wrap a newborn snuggly. To swaddle a baby was to wrap it so that it felt the security of the material and to protect it from the elements. I remember with my own children when they were born, Karen and I would wrap our young babies tightly like this as it was recommended by so many medical practitioners for protection against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Did Mary know all of this then? Was she aware of how she was protecting the baby Jesus when she swaddled Him? Maybe. Maybe not. But there is much more to the story. This was to be a “sign” for the shepherds. If this was a common practice, then why would it be considered a “sign” for Mary to do something that everyone else was doing?
The answer lies in God’s providential care and sovereignty.
According to Jimmy DeYoung (biblical and Jewish scholar), these were no ordinary shepherds. They were priest/shepherds. They were selected at a very young age for this particular task – watching over the Temple flock. They were most probably not the young boys depicted in most Christmas plays, but were men in the early years of the priesthood – somewhere in their early thirties. For most of their lives they had studied the Scriptures and had been trained to care for these sacrificial animals.
From atop a two-story stone watchtower, shepherds would watch over the flock – making certain that there was no threat to the flock. On the ground, other shepherds would remain with the sheep insuring their safety.
When a ewe was ready to give birth, the shepherds would take the mother into the first floor of the watchtower, reach into the mother’s womb, and deliver the lamb. The lamb would then be wrapped in swaddling clothes to protect it from any harm and lay it in a manger lined with soft hay. (Remember the lamb for sacrifice must be without blemish. A bruised or broken bone would disqualify it.) Once the lamb had settled down from the birthing process, the shepherd would remove the swathing materials and deliver the lamb to its mother. The lamb would receive special care from the shepherd/priests because this lamb would be sacrificed for the sins of the people.
The shepherd/priests had trained all of their lives for this very moment.; To the common passerby, seeing a baby in a manger meant very little; however, to the shepherd/priest it was a sign of the coming Messiah. They were keenly aware that the Messiah would one day free the people from their sins.
A baby, announced by the heavenly choir, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes was more than they could handle – they “came with haste.” They immediately recognized the sign – this baby was the One born to die for the sins of the world.
All the signs are still here. Christmas is a time to remember the birth of the Christ-child, Jesus the Messiah. We all should come with haste and bow before the King of kings and Lord of lords. We all should recognize the wisdom and power expressed by our heavenly Father as He presented His Son as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
In the middle of all the "signs," traditions and symbols of Christmas today, let us not forget that this was the Lamb of God, who at birth was determined to go to the cross for our sins. Our youth did a drama Sunday that was a beautiful display of this truth. I will post a video it here soon.
Look for the signs that God is placing before you today that will remind you of what He has done for YOU through the birth of His Son, Jesus.