The First Day of Christmas: A Baby Wrapped in Cloth

December 26, 2013

A perfectly lovely day unfolded for the Naegeli family yesterday. We surrounded each other with love, gifts, food, frivolity, and even a little suspense, in the form of Daddy’s Treasure Hunt. When I needed to sleep, I just conked out in my recliner; when I awoke I was amazed by what the others had done in the meantime.

Around the tree, a major gift theme for me was fabric, in the form of soft clothing, head scarves, and cute hats. I am set for life in the scarf department, now with several great colors and patterns to choose from. Each time I opened a new one, I took the previous one off and tied a new “hat” on my head. The word is out that I am going to wear my wig only in public among strangers; otherwise, I will express myself with the color and texture of scarves in the next few months.

In light of this celebration of fabric, there is a detail in Luke’s version of the Christmas story that intrigues me. When Mary gave birth to Jesus, she “wrapped him in bands of cloth . . .” (2:7). When the angel announced, “It’s a boy!” to the shepherds, he said, “Here’s the sign: a baby wrapped in bands of cloth . . .” (2:12).

What strikes me is the level of detail, especially of something so common and obvious when it comes to babies. Newborns are always wrapped snugly in some sort of “receiving blanket,” presumably to comfort them with womb-like coziness. In the case of Jesus, entry into the world of daylight is softened by a swaddle of cloths, but why is this a significant detail to be highlighted? I can think of two reasons:

Firstly, Jesus was a baby like any other baby. He was treated normally as babies are; he would have suffered cold if he had not been swaddled; and he most certainly “came in the flesh.” This is a nod to the Incarnation and Jesus’ dual nature: fully divine and, yes, fully human.

Secondly, could it be at the beginning of Jesus’ story that Luke is alerting us to the end of his story, too? Consider the possibility that we are being directed to think about the bands of cloth that wrapped around Jesus’ dead body after his crucifixion (Luke 23:53), and the same wrapping left in the grave when he rose on Easter morning (Luke 24:12).

It seems to me that those bands of cloth, rough muslin or fine linen, are signals to us of the dynamic purpose of Jesus’ life. If he is to be “the savior, the Messiah,” then the full arc of his story is important, from birth through life to death and resurrection. Follow the cloth, and you will follow Jesus’s mission: the hem of his garment was the touchstone of healing (Luke 8:44); Lazarus’ miracle was celebrated in Christ’s command, “Unwrap him!” (John 11:44).

So when I wrap my head in dazzling color in the coming months, I will remember two things: I will remember that Jesus came and was really here in our midst, loved by his mother, swaddled in humanity, and dressed for his mission to me and the world. I will also receive the love that has been wrapped around me. As one gift giver wrote in the card accompanying her cashmere knit hat, “When you wear this, you are wearing a hug from your long-distance family.” I love that. By extension, I understand that hug to be from God, too, and plan on passing it along as I am able in the coming months!



3 Responses to “The First Day of Christmas: A Baby Wrapped in Cloth”

  1. houstonhodges Says:

    Oh, you preachuh-woman, preach it! “Bands of cloth!” First and last marks of humanity. Never thought that before, 83 years.

  2. The full arc goes through strips of cloth long before Jesus’ birth. Highlighting and undergirding and giving beauty and depth to what lies ahead for Jesus in strips of cloth is what lies behind in the prophecy of Ezek. 16. Vs 4 is the only place in OT where strips of cloth is mentioned. I suspect Shepherds in Bethlehem knew this prophecy well – knew it’s imagery as shepherds (who may have been watching over their sheep because it was lambing season) and even felt its reality personally – forgotten, left outside, considered unclean. To be told the sign is a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and that this child is born even unto them!
    Here is God keeping his promise to, ” remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant (16:60). To know this sign and the promise that lay behind it and then see it come to full reality – full FRUITion in the life, death and resurrection of Christ – even as told through strips of cloth – oh Mary, we have a God who knows how to write a very good story!!
    Those are indeed no mere scarves you wear around your head – Jesus is still in your/our midst.

  3. emd5542 Says:

    Mary, I love how you never add to and then reinterpret Scripture but that you amplify it for our edification and mutual up-building. Reminds me of that wonderful old Isaiah-to-Jesus hymn “How Firm a Foundation.”

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