“And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12
Such a familiar passage. And yet it actually speaks a different language. It was a language the shepherds understood. And the angles knew the shepherds could recognize the deeper meaning when they heard of Jesus’ birth that night. The message spoke of things both present and future. And as we so often find in Scripture, there was much more significant meaning to those words than most of us in our modern, western world understand. So let’s break it down.
Location of Christ’s birth was Bethlehem. The hills around Bethlehem were home to thousands of lambs. These were not just any lambs. Hundreds of these lambs were used for the daily and annual sacrifices. With two lambs per day in the span of one year, Bethlehem probably saw the birth of over 770 sacrificial lambs, plus hundreds more for Passover and other feasts. In that day, when someone said, “Bethlehem,” the person hearing this heard, “sacrificial lambs.” Knowing that King David was from Bethlehem, we understand that this would have been the same area he would have raised sheep.
Watching over the flocks in Bethlehem were not just any shepherds. In order for a lamb to be deemed as a sacrificial lamb, the shepherds had to be trained for this holy act. These shepherds were priests who probably had these duties designated to them from their youth. They understood the instructions given in the law of Moses about the qualifications of lambs offered on the altar. And it was their responsibility to daily keep watch over these flocks. During lambing season, these priests took the sheep to this manger which was called Migdal Edar, or “watch tower of the flock.” Micah foretold that the daughter of Zion would see the Messiah come from Migdal Edar. (Micah 4:8) This watch tower was the station where shepherds brought the flocks designated for Temple worship.
Swaddled. Christ was swaddled. But what was so important about swaddling that the angels gave this detail to the shepherds? Again, it was their language. Swaddling was a practice they used for preparing the sacrificial lambs. At birth, two lambs were placed in a double-hewn depression of a limestone rock known as a manger…. in Bethlehem….at the tower. Here they wrapped swaddling cloths around the lambs to prevent them from thrashing around in order to keep them from ‘spot or wrinkle.’ When the angels spoke the words, “swaddling cloths, lying in a manger,” those shepherd priests knew that a baby was just born in the birthplace of sacrificial lambs and was wrapped up as a sign of having no spot or wrinkle – prepared to give His life in sacrifice for all.
In my mind’s eye, I see each strip representing a piece of the entire story. It all tied in that night with His death, His resurrection, our life in Him, and His coming return! How like our God, the very Artistic Creator, to use common, every day imagery to paint a brilliant story that is woven with so much love!
It was all there that night. Both the present and the future. The present events were very real. A woman travailed in pain to bring forth a baby. And a baby was swaddled to become the future sacrifice. It was God’s gift of love given to us that day, wrapped in torn strips of cloth, held tenderly by a young woman who would one day shed tears on a hill of death. This place where shepherds raised lambs, The Shepherd of our souls was born. It was all very present that night. And it is still present today. No matter where we are today, His swaddled gift of love still speaks of future hope. And it is still wrapped in love for all who hear the message and go seek for this gift.
Let’s do that today! Embrace His wrapped up gift of love!
It really is such JOY!