Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Manger and the Swaddling Bands

The following was originally published on the now-defunct on December 22, 2009.
Modonna & Child Ambrogio Lorenzetti 1319 Wikimedia

Sweet little Jesus boy
They made you be born in a manger….

So begins a traditional Christmas song. In a few words which seem almost an afterthought, Luke 2:7 tells us why Jesus was placed in a manger: “because there was no room in the inn.”

Bethlehem was so crowded there was only room in a cattle trough for the Child. Much has been made of the five small words “no room in the inn,” and rightly so. These words picture what the Apostle John tells us in his Gospel.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1: 10-11 ESV)

Sweet little holy Child,
We didn't know who you was.

But there were two at the scene, Mary and Joseph, who did know who he was. They didn’t understand everything, but they had been told by God through his angels who the child was. They only had a manger to lay him in, but they received him.

Luke 2:7 tells us Jesus was placed in a manger. Why? Because there was no room. But what they did before they laid him there is significant.

Mary "wrapped Him in swaddling cloths." Swaddling cloths or bands were a tradition that had been handed down for centuries. When a child was born, its skin was rubbed with salt and oil, and cloths were wrapped around it. It was thought that this would also insure the child’s limbs would grow straight. In Ezekiel 16:4, a baby that had not been wrapped in cloths is used to describe an abandoned child.

With this in mind, note the paradoxical scene. Here is a baby in a cattle trough, probably cut into the wall of a cave used to shelter domestic animals – not the place you would normally find a baby. There is a horror in the sight of a child so treated.

But there are also the swaddling bands – an indication that the child was loved and cared for. Mary and Joseph made the only room they had available, and cared for the child as best they could. His own people had not received him, but Mary and Joseph did.

The scene of Jesus lying in a cave wrapped in swaddling bands is reminiscent of another scene – Jesus wrapped in grave cloths lying in a tomb. Again we have a picture of horror, and yet of the love which prepared the body for burial. It was another Joseph, the one from Arimathea, who had provided the tomb and had wrapped the body in linen.

The only room for Jesus according to those who rejected him was in the grave. He was there because the religious leaders of the day had no room for him. But even in his death there were those who cared.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12 ESV)

Do you have room for Jesus?

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