10But the angel said to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah,* the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’
Here in today’s text is the profundity and wonder of Christ’s coming. The Eternal Son of God, before whom holy angels hide their eyes, lies in a feeding trough for cattle! This is a most unusual place for any newborn, but especially for the King of Heaven. But the angel instructs the shepherds that all this is to be a sign for them: “You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” This seems not to have been a sign to help them locate the child, because there must have been countless feeding troughs or mangers in the area of Bethlehem. Rather this is a sign pointing to significance, a sign revelatory as to the child’s life and mission. The newborn babe, for whom there is no room, pushed aside, is lying in a manger and “wrapped in bands of cloth.”
Many of us are familiar with the King James Version that translates this as “wrapped in swaddling clothes.” But most modern translations, including our text (The New Revised Standard Version) render this more accurately as “bands of cloth.” And it is in the “bands of cloth” that the shepherds are to see God’s sign for them as to the child’s life and character.
When the Jews had been in Egypt, centuries before, they learned the custom of wrapping their dead in “bands of cloth,” like mummies. The Greek word translated here as “bands of cloth,” is translated in some other New Testament passages as “burial bandages.” The Gospel of John says that both the bodies of Lazarus and the crucified Jesus were wrapped in “bands of cloth” (John 11:44; John 19:40; 20:5-6).
God so loved the world that when he gave his only begotten Son, he was not wrapped in a warm receiving blanket in a maternity ward, but he was wrapped in “bands of cloth.” As the shepherds found the King of Heaven lying in a feeding trough for animals and gazed at the little Savior, he would have looked to them like a little corpse prepared for his burial. And in that is the sign for the shepherds and for all who will see. This baby has been born to die. He has come down to us to lay down his life as a sacrifice for sin.
From the beginning God had told his people that one day he himself would come, and he would come not in pomp and power, but he would come in lowliness and humility in order to give himself as the atoning sacrifice for sin. It was just as the angel had instructed Joseph: “You will call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:2).
Thus the Lord Jesus begins his life and ends his life wrapped in “bands of cloth.” Here is the reason for his coming, and the reason for the Season. Jesus has come not to be a great teacher, spiritual guru, or the inspiration for great art and architecture. Jesus has come to be our Savior!
Here is the Good News of great joy for all people!
Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child–
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said,
“Yes,Let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
“Yes, Let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place. – Leslie Leyland Fields
Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest with today’s scripture text,
Colossians 2:9-10, and devotional.
Today’s Moments of Diaphany
- an answer to prayer
- evidence of his love and care
- evidence of his creative power and wisdom
- his help to do his work