Now that another Christmas celebration has been completed, thought it proper to cover a subtle aspect of the Christmas message that is usually not highlighted. Refer to Luke 2: 8 – 12.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
The Christmas story has been told so often, sometimes it is easy to gloss over some of the words; such as when the angel of the Lord says, “This will be a sign to you.”
Realize it is highly unlikely Mary or any other woman would have to accompany their husbands to the city of their ancestral line to be counted. The purpose of the census was for Roman tax calculations. Women were considered more as property in that period than people who could pay taxes. As a case in point, refer to Matt 14:21. The number of men eating fish and bread were specified as 5000, then an almost footnote is added that women and children were also there, but uncounted.
If that were true, why would Mary tag along with Joseph? Probably because Nazareth was a small town and most people knew the baby was not Joseph’s. They would assume some other man had impregnated Mary. The consequences if she stayed would be at best she would be ostracized and at worse stoned to death.
Even if I am wrong, is it reasonable to assume many women accompanying their husbands would not be at the point of giving birth that particular night? But even if there were a few who did, how many would be laid in a manager? The obvious answer is probably none.
So, when the angel told the shepherds how to identify the baby who is the Messiah, why add the baby will be wrapped in swaddling clothes … because that was a very important part of the announcement.
During those days, when Jews took long journeys, they would wrap strips of linen cloths around their bodies (under their regular clothes). The reason they did this was Jewish people believed a dead body must be wrapped in linen strips before burial (remember, Jesus was so wrapped before He was entombed). If someone died during long trips, they had the ability to properly prepare the body for burial.
When baby Jesus was born, it would have been very convenient to use those strips; swaddling clothes. The angel’s announcement adding “swaddling clothes” was not for identification, but to link death with His birth.
The birth of Christ was a joyous time and every celebration of it should be happy. However, the presence of swaddling clothes should be tucked in the back of our minds, for His birth was amazing, but His death (and resurrection) were equally important.