There’s nothing sweeter than a tiny baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, nestled in my arms. When I close my eyes and imagine that moment when Joseph placed Jesus into Mary’s arms, I see her face relax, and a gentle smile grace her lips. It no longer mattered that they traveled all day on a donkey, or that there was no room in a comfortable house to give birth, or that there were sheep over in the corner watching . . .
Or maybe the sheep were still with their shepherds out in the field, where suddenly, the dark night lit up with the light of an angel!
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
I find it difficult to memorize anything, and yet, this beautiful story slips easily off my tongue. Mom and Dad read it to me long before I could read it for myself. I can close my eyes and see the pictures in the children’s Bible book I loved and read often. Every year, before opening our Christmas presents, we read the true Christmas story together.
When I came to understand Jesus’ love for me, the story became even more precious. It’s hard to comprehend – the Creator of the universe wrapped in swaddling clothes in the arms of a young momma. The plan was simple, and yet unbelievably sacrificial. He left heaven and became one of us, so that He could offer us forgiveness for our sins. Jesus planned to pay the penalty for our sins himself, so we wouldn’t have to be separated from God in eternity. He chose to die in my place.
My heart overflows with gratefulness.
This year, the story came to life for me in a new way as I stood on a hill overlooking the shepherd’s fields in Bethlehem. My eyes opened wide as I imagined the air filling with angelic light. “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Luke 2:10) I could recite the words with our Jewish guide as he spoke.
I listened, intrigued, as our guide described the lives of the shepherds of Bethlehem. They would quarry rock from the ground, or the hillside, in order to make a rock tower. Standing on this tower, they could watch their sheep and protect them from harm. The place where they dug out the rock created a cave. There they could gather their sheep in storms, or guard them from predators.
Theirs was considered a lowly job, yet a very important one. Each year, the Jewish Passover festival required the availability of many lambs. Each family was to bring a lamb to offer God as a sacrifice for their sins. Without a doubt, this provided a livelihood for the shepherds of Bethlehem, which lay only 5 miles from Jerusalem.
But the Passover lambs were to be perfect, without blemish.
As I looked at the rocky terrain, the guide explained how easily the lambs could trip, fall, or wound themselves on the jagged rocks. So, the shepherds often wrapped the lambs in cloths to keep them from hurting themselves. The word we translate “swaddling clothes” is the word used specifically for the cloths used to wrap a Passover lamb – or to wrap a dead body. They never used that particular word to describe cloths to wrap a baby.
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior . . . You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
The message told the shepherds where to find the baby. He would be in a shepherd’s cave, wrapped in the cloths of a Passover lamb, laying in the feeding trough. Maybe he was even in their cave – but certainly they knew the shepherds in the area, and where they lived. It would not have been difficult to find.
But the words also told them the entire plan. This baby would replace the Passover Lamb. The Saviour would pay the penalty of our sins, once for all.
It’s little wonder that Mary pondered these things in her heart. The angel told her that God would give Jesus the throne of David, and that His kingdom will not end. And yet, here is her baby, wrapped like a Passover Lamb, visited by the shepherds. Mary, did you know the price He would pay?
This year, as you celebrate Christmas, remember this is only the beginning of the most amazing story of love ever lived. The baby wrapped in swaddling clothes became your sacrificial lamb.