Swaddling Clothes – Burial Clothes
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12
It is striking the swaddling clothes are referenced twice in this narrative of the birth of Jesus. First we are told that when Mary gave birth to Jesus she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, and later the angel tells the Shepherds to find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. What was the significance of swaddling clothes that it was given such an important place in the story?
Modern use of the term “swaddling clothes” refers to it as tight restrictive wrapping for newborn babies. Hospitals use the term in this way for the cloth/blanket new born babies are wrapped in and placed in cribs.
However, this is not the original meaning of the term. Tradition holds that in the days when Joseph and Mary were traveling to Bethlehem for the census that they, like all Middle Eastern travelers, carried with them strips of cloth wrapped many times around their wastes that could be used in burial ceremonies should someone die along the way. Journeys often lasted weeks, sometimes months and the ways were fraught with difficulty and often times of peril.
When someone died along the way these clothes could have been used to wrap the bodies in order to continue with them on the journey until they could be properly buried.
At his birth Jesus was wrapped in Joseph’s burial clothes because they had no room or provisions in the Inn for them to wrap Him in more conventional clothes for a baby. And such strips of cloth would have been commonly available to the poor peasants and shepherds.
In addition to being a sign for the shepherds they pointed to the reality that Jesus was born to die for the sins of the world. The symbolism is paralleled in the Myrrh brought by the Kings some time later when they came to offer Jesus gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Myrrh was a spice used in the embalming process. From His birth Jesus’ destiny was to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
“Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew. 20:28
“Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.” Hebrews 10:5
And that was not the body of a King or Ruler, even though He was both Ruler and King. It was not the body of a giant or a great warrior prince even though He was the Captain of the Host of Heaven. It was not the body of the master of a great house, even though He was the Master of the House of God overseeing many mansions
The body given to Him was the body of a lowly servant.
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
In His life, death, burial and resurrection we have redemption and eternal life, and that more abundantly.
In this season of celebration of Jesus’ incarnation let us all celebrate the King Who has triumphed over death and sin and is seated at the right hand of God the Father and He has made us to sit together with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7