Friday, December 20, 2019

Significance of the Swaddling Cloths

I just realized it's been more than a month since I wrote a blog post. In addition to doctors' visits, preparations for Christmas, and several snowstorms, I've been working hard on my new writing project--a book which I'm titling Following in Footsteps of Faith. It is a sequel to Frontiers of Faith,  the story of my grandparents, Charles & Florence Personeus, pioneer missionaries to Alaska, 1917-1982. The new book tells the faith-building true stories of my adventures in following in their footsteps even from early childhood.

Before I continue work on my new book, I want to pause and wish you all a blessed Christmas and  God's best in the New Year.

From the first Christmas I can remember until now, my family has always read the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke on Christmas Eve. We've sung the carols and reenacted the precious story every year in church. This year, however, I gained insight into the wondrous story that I had never known previously: the significance of the swaddling cloths to the shepherds.

Bethlehem, meaning "House of Bread," is only 5 miles from Jerusalem. King David watched his father's sheep on the hillsides around Bethlehem, the town designated in Micah 5:1 as the birthplace of the coming Messiah, who would be called "The Bread of Life."

Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, near the Sea of Galilee, about 80 miles north of Bethlehem. We all know the Bible story of the taxation census ordered by Caesar Augustus that required all men to return to their hometowns to register. Joseph, as well as Mary, were both of the lineage of King David. In spite of Mary's advanced pregnancy, she accompanied Joseph on the journey. As they arrived in Bethlehem, she went into labor.

Bethlehem at that time was overwhelmed with travelers who had come to register. Frantically, Joseph searched for a room. All he could find was a shepherd's cave. At least it was clean and provided shelter. Mary gave birth and wrapped the Babe in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. This fact is mentioned three times within 20 verses in Luke 2, calling attention to its importance.

Out on the hillside, shepherds were watching their sheep that night. Suddenly, the angel of the Lord appeared to them and announced the birth of "Christ the Lord," saying,

And this will be the sign to you: you will find the Babe wrapped in 
swaddling cloth, lying in a manger.
The message was punctuated by the singing of a radiant angelic choir:

Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!

Now, these were not ordinary shepherds. The shepherds of Bethlehem were "Levitical Shepherds," chosen and trained to take care of the sheep that were to be used as sacrificial lambs in the Temple in nearby Jerusalem.

The Law of Moses required that the sacrificial lambs be "spotless and without blemish." To assure that, special treatment was required. When an ewe was ready to give birth, she was taken to a special birthplace, a cave designated for the birth of the sacrificial lambs. The newborn lamb was carefully wrapped in swaddling cloths, bandage-like strips of cloth to protect it from blemish, and laid in the manger there.

When the shepherds heard the angel's news, they knew immediately where they could go to see the Baby--to their cave where the sacrificial lambs were born.

As soon as the angels went back into heaven, the shepherds hurried to see the newborn Babe, the One of whom John the Baptist later called "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

Today, amid all the tinsel, lights, sounds, and gifts, let's not forget "the Reason for the Season"!

The Sacrificial Lamb is now our Shepherd.

He is Emanuel, God with us!

He is the the Lamb without spot or blemish--the One who was in all points tempted as we are yet without sin,  the One who can sympathize with our weaknesses and give us help in our time of need. Praise His wonderful Name!

Consider giving a book for Christmas. See

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