The Mysterious Symbol of the Swaddling Clothes

December 27, 2009

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church


Luke 2:8-20

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.


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.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.


And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.




Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Good Morning! Merry Christmas!


I want to talk with you today about this title and this topic, The Mysterious Symbol of the Swaddling Clothes.


We are told that when Jesus was born, there was exuberant joy in heaven. There was so much joy in heaven that it couldnít be contained. The very angels had to sing. They found themselves an audience to sing to in the shepherds on the hillside watching over their flocks by night.


They were doing their everyday, regular job, watching over the flock. The angels of heaven appeared to them, mysterious, radiant, Holy Beings. They were singing, and telling the story of the great thing that God had done for people. And they said, Donít be afraid. The shepherds must have been frightened, but the angels said, Donít be afraid. We bring you glad tidings of great joy. Which shall be to everyone. (Emphasis on everyone.) "For unto you people is born in the city of David, a savior which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign onto you. You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. And the shepherds said, ďLetís go! Letís check it out, letís see what is going on there in Bethlehem.Ē


Now, my question is this. Why did Saint Luke, with all the remarkable things he had to say about Jesus, the stories he had to tell, why did he bother with mentioning swaddling clothes? What was that all about? What is the symbolism, the mystery of the swaddling clothes? Letís see if we can explore it together.


The shepherds said, ďLetís go to Bethlehem and see what is going on. What the angels have told us about.Ē


 Now the angels, I think, in their heavenly wisdom, knew that with this big announcement to the shepherds that God has sent this wonderful miracle, this Messiah, the shepherds might want to look for a palace. They might want to look in a very high and elevated place. They might want to look for a baby with red velvet and gold trim and a crown and all the trappings of royalty. But no, the angels wanted the shepherds to know what to look for.  "Go and look for a baby in regular baby clothes, born in a barn, not a palace. When you find a baby in a barn, lying in a feeding trough, which has been made nicely into a bed, and given up so considerately by the animals that live there, you will know that that is the One."


So the shepherds went running to Bethlehem.  It was crowded. There were many, many people there, but the shepherds found this barn by the leading of the Spirit. And they went into the barn and they saw not only the animals but they saw the beautiful Mary and the faithful Joseph and they saw a little baby wrapped in baby clothes lying in a feeding trough, in a manger.


They rejoiced and said, ďThis is the One!Ē


What are swaddling clothes?


Swaddling clothes were the common dressing of babies by mid-eastern women of that region. There were long strips of cloth. The baby was laid on it diagonally and the baby was wrapped up, tucked in, and wrapped all around.  Why did they do it?  They did it to keep the baby warm and they did it because they felt it kept the baby safe. The baby was placed on its back, so that it couldnít roll around or fall out. This was for the safety of the baby. It was felt that this was a good thing to do. It was the common dress of the children of the day.


What is the message for us in swaddling clothes?


Simply this: when God sent Jesus to earth, He wore our clothes. He walked in our shoes. He dressed as we dressed. He experienced what we experience. What a remarkable gift of God! 


An old Native American expression says, "Never criticize someone till you've walked a mile in his moccasins."  When you go through a hard time, when you experience grief, or loneliness or disappointment, or sorrow or pain, please know in your heart, friend, that Jesus did too.  Therefore, God knows what it's like.


The symbolism of the swaddling clothes is that God understands us. He has been dressed in our clothes. The swaddling clothes are our baby clothes. Jesus understands what it means to be fully human. When you go through hard times, remember that Jesus knows about this. Jesus understands what we are going through.


Also, wonít you remember that when you go through a good time, when you feel joy in your heart, when you feel the exuberance of life, when you think about that thing you are thankful for, Jesus knew about that too. Jesus had joy in His heart. Jesus has gone through what we go through, all the way from the cradle to the cross. He knew our griefs and understood our sorrows.


Here is the best news of all; He came to show us that the sorrows and the grief are not the last word. That the last word is triumph, the last word is good. That the last word is life because God has the last word. That is the message of Jesus. That is why we love Him so much.


My friends, the mystery of the swaddling clothes is wrapped up in the idea that Jesus wears our clothes.  God understands our condition - first hand.  Oh blessed swaddling clothes - they tell of a God who understands and cares - about us.


There is one more thing that I would like to mention to you about the swaddling clothes, one more symbol. Mary and Joseph, by wrapping Jesus up those swaddling clothes, showed that they loved Him.


They cared that He was warm, they cared that He was safe. And so they wrapped Him in the best they had, and made a bed for Him. The swaddling clothes and the manger symbolize the idea that they loved Him. 


And you know what? We do too. We love Him too. We symbolize that every Christmas - our devotion and our love for the Lord, Jesus. 


God loves you; I do too, friend. Have a blessed week.        

© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski