“And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
Two words jump out at me in that passage: “swaddling cloths”, and “manger”. We have heard that passage spoken, and sung in Christmas carols so often, we quite possibly have become insensitive to their meaning. That is sad because those two terms are packed with meaning more glorious than all the packed and wrapped presents under any Christmas tree!
I first want to point out that the word Babe in this passage from Luke is capitalized. I am so grateful to the publishers of the New King James Version for taking great care to respectfully, and rightly, capitalize the first letter of any reference to God (such as Him, His, He, or Lord), Babe is of course referring to the Baby Jesus. The angel told Mary in Matthew chapter 1 to name the Baby “JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Also, a few verses later, Matthew reminds us of the prophet Isaiah who said that He is to be called the title of ““Immanuel,” which is translated “God with us””. God “became flesh and dwelt among us”, is what John said about Jesus in John 1:14.
“Swaddling cloths” is an intriguing term because it is not in our normal everyday vocabulary, we just assume it means a baby blanket. When our babies are born, we don’t wrap them in swaddling cloths. Good mothers wrap their babies in cloth, to protect their tender skin, and Mary did as well, especially since Jesus was laid in sharp hay and grain. So why would the Bible use the term “swaddling cloths?” Is that some special or different cloth? Yes, they are grave cloths. They are strips of linen that people would wrap a dead body in back in those days. Think mummy wraps. This specifically tells us that Jesus came to die. He came to sacrifice Himself for us. His death paid the price that must be paid as the penalty of the sins of us all. The symbolism here is amazing.
“Manger” is another term that we do not use today, and I grew up in Wyoming around farming, ranching, and even raised sheep. A manger is an old term for a feed trough. Since nearly all sheep were fed out in the fields, a manger, was a wooden trough into which was put hay or grain to help nurture sick sheep back to health, or to feed sheep during stormy weather inside a barn or cave. A manger keeps the feed off of the ground so it is kept pure. Again, the symbolism is amazing because the character and words of Jesus is pure truth, is nourishment during times of trouble, and for us all who are ill from sin and burdens.
Jesus is God who came so we may have life, and to have life more abundantly. (John 10:10) Jesus came to save sinners, and when ridiculed by the religious leaders of His day for spending time with the poor and sinners, Jesus said He does so because the well do not need a physician, the sick do. (Luke 5:31) We are all like sheep, and out of the manger, comes the food of life. (John 6:35)
Jesus is who to turn to when stormy weather comes in our lives, when we are ill, and when we need nourishment. Much more than that, is He alone offers liberation from the penalty of our wrongs, if we confess them to Him in repentance, and accept His free (Christmas) gift of life of freedom forever. I did, and it is the best decision I have, or will, ever make!
Jesus is that little Baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger, whose name is above all other names, who came to die about thirty three years later as payment for our wrongs. He then rose again after being dead for three days and now sits at the right had of God the Father, and in front of whom every knee will bow, and every tongue will proclaim Him as King (that’s you and me). (Philippians 2:9-11) He lovingly wants you to KNOW Him, and to give you life and life more abundantly. He alone is The Truth, The Life, and The only way to God. (John 14:6)
And THAT is what we celebrate at CHRISTmas time, and why we sing about swaddling cloths, and a manger!