After the birth of my daughter, I learned that to swaddle means to wrap your baby tightly in a blanket. Babies love that snug feeling.
Jesus, however, was not wrapped in an ultra-soft blanket or clothed in a cute onesie. Swaddling clothes weren’t really clothes at all. Swaddling clothes were strips of cloth. Swaddling clothes were rags.
Jesus was wrapped in rags and laid in an animal’s feeding trough.
The point of Christmas isn’t that a cute baby was born in an idyllic stable surrounded by cows softly lowing, visited by cute shepherds as angels quietly hummed in the background.
I call that the cute-ization of Christmas and it is a subtle distortion of the devil.
As Christians, we know that Christmas isn’t about Santa and Rudolph and presents. But we can keep Christ in Christmas and still miss the whole point.
Christmas is about the all-powerful Lord and King of the universe leaving behind his glorious throne in heaven to be wrapped in rags and laid in an animal’s feeding trough.
But why did God do that? Why did he leave behind the glory of heaven to be born in a barn? To answer that question, we need look at another occasion when Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth.
When Jesus was crucified, he was stripped of his clothes. He hung naked from the cross, covered in a simple loin cloth. His clothes were divided among the soldiers as a part of their pay.
When Joseph of Arimathea removed Jesus’ body from the cross, he took Jesus to his new tomb and wrapped his body in strips of linen cloth, as was the custom of the day.
Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth at his birth and his death.
But just two days later, when the disciples found the stone rolled away from the tomb, they looked inside. And what did they see? The strips of cloth were neatly folded where Jesus’ body had been. Jesus is now clothed in glory.
Strips of cloth tie Christmas, Good Friday and Easter together.
So often, we try to celebrate Christmas separately. But Christmas by itself simply becomes the joy of a birth, a baby and cute Children’s programs.
Christmas has no meaning without Good Friday and Easter. Jesus was born in order to die. He died in order to rise. And when we remember that, we find the true joy of Christmas.
This last week, a young teacher from our local grade school was suddenly killed in a car accident. I had the painful privilege of sitting with her third grade class as they were told. Their hearts broke. I can only imagine the hurt her husband, her parents and her family are feeling right now.
If Christmas is just about a cute baby being born, there can be no joy for that teacher’s parents this year. Their baby girl died. How could they ever celebrate Christmas again?
But Christmas means more than the joy of a baby being born. Christmas means that God loved us so much he came to this earth to suffer the punishment we deserve for all the stupid and ugly things we do and say.
Jesus died your death, but he isn’t dead. Those strips of cloth are folded neatly where his body lay. Jesus is alive and is clothed in glory.
And so is that teacher. She believed in Jesus. She is in heaven. Her family, her friends and her students will see her again because Jesus was born in Bethlehem to die on Calvary and rise from the grave for them as well. That is the true joy and peace of Christmas.
So this year, don’t celebrate Christmas without the cross. Don’t celebrate Christmas without also celebrating Good Friday and Easter.
They are all tied together with strips of cloth.