What is the biggest surprise you’ve ever gotten for a Christmas gift? My wife would tell you that one of hers was the gift I gave her on our very first Christmas that we celebrated together as husband and wife. I gave her…(wait for it) …a blender!!! I thought it was very practical, I mean, we needed a blender. And it was a nice blender- it had not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different settings! However, there was a SIGN that this was not JUST a blender… a sign that she almost missed because… she was so overwhelmed by the blender.
So, as I was realizing that my naïve newlywed clever idea was not so clever, and as tears were beginning to form in my wife’s eyes… I pointed out the sign to her! The unusual amount of paper stuffed inside the blender was a SIGN that there was something much more significant here than a blender! So I encouraged her to take off the top of the blender and take out what was inside. She began to unravel the paper, which had some weight to it. And, finally, she got to the jewelry box inside the paper, which contained a new watch. Needless to say, that was a good early marriage lesson to learn!
Signs can be very helpful in understanding the true significance of a gift! When the gift of Jesus Christ was born into this world, there were plenty of signs that he was not just another baby. But there was ONE sign in particular that we tend to overlook. Ironically, it’s the one sign we are actually told IS a sign. Luke 2: 8-12; Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
The word that Luke uses for “sign” is the same word used in the Bible for many amazing acts of God… the parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the 5000, the raising of the dead. It’s the same word that Gospel of John uses for the miracles of Jesus. It’s a word which means that these are not just random acts of God but they serve to point to something of great significance. On the night that Christ was born the angel told the shepherds that amidst the remarkably humble simplicity of a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger they will find someone of much greater significance than they could possibly imagne!!!
And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” What’s the significance of this sign? First, the babe- a newborn baby. God was born into this world as a human baby! Mary had to push, he had an umbilical cord, … there was all that other stuff that goes along with birth… he was a baby! If you’d been there, if you’d seen it, you would have said, “What’s so extraordinary about this child?” Unlike so many of the paintings of the Christ-child, he was not born with a halo; he did not always have an angelic other-worldly look on his face. And, contrary to the words of “Away in a Manger- “no crying he makes,” He even cried!
Max Lucado writes, “His cry though strong and healthy is still the helpless and piercing cry of a baby. And he is absolutely dependent on Mary for his well-being. Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of the sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable through the womb of a teenager and the presence of a carpenter.”
The mystery and marvel of Christmas- is that Jesus was born just like you and me! Someone once described a baby “as one long intestinal tract that makes loud noises at one end and exercises no responsibility at the other.” That’s what a baby is! That’s what we once were and that’s what God became!
A little girl had just fallen asleep one night when a loud thunderstorm woke up her. She was frightened and began to cry out. Her daddy came in and sat on the edge of her bed, hugged her, and began to stroke her hair, assuring her that all was ok. He tried to explain to her that there was no need to fear because God was with her- even though she can’t see him, he is right there with her. He asked, “Do you understand that, sweetheart?” She said, “Yes, daddy, but I need something with skin on it!”
God, our Heavenly Father, knew that we needed something with skin on it! Jesus Christ is God in human skin! Hebrews 2: 17-18, Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters,so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
Because of Jesus’ life and teachings and ministry on this earth we have a clear picture of who God really is and what He is like. He is a personal God who loves us and wants to have a relationship with us and help us. So, God became a human being and lived and walked in our shoes, so that he could completely identify with us- the people he came to save!
The sign also included being wrapped in swaddling cloths. Notice,it’s “cloths,” plural. In those days, newborn babies were often wrapped not in one large cloth, but in strips of cloths. Swaddling a baby is kinda like hogtieing a baby- you are making them immobile.
Now, pause for a moment and try to wrap your mind around that! Jesus Christ goes from having all the perfect freedom of divinity one moment to becoming a hogtied tiny baby the next. Imagine how odd that must have looked to the angels to see their Lord bound up as a newborn baby?
But how was this a sign? In this way. Being bound in cloths at the beginning of his life was a sign that pointed to how he would end his life- when he would be hogtied and beaten and crucified, then taken down from the cross and wrapped in very similar way to how he was wrapped as a newborn… but in much larger strips of cloths… cloths used to wrap a lifeless body before placing it in the tomb. Heb. 2:14; Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.
Christ shared our humanity so that he might DIE for us in order to break the power of the devil and redeem us from the bondage of sin and death for us! He who was completely free was bound so that we who were bound might be set free!!! Swaddling cloths- the sign of a Savior who redeems us!!!
The angel said, And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in… a manger. How is a manger part of the sign??? A manger is a feeding trough! It was built to serve the purpose of holding food, the life-sustaining nutrition for the animals! Remember these words of Jesus? John 6:35, Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.… Jesus was laid in a manger as a SIGN that He is the bread of life! Food for our souls!
Every person who is born into this world arrives with a God-shaped vacuum in their hearts. And we all try to fill that emptiness with all kinds of things. But there is only ONE who can truly fill it- Jesus Christ- God the Son! He came into the world to spiritually fill and sustain and nourish us.
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of our Savior who came as a baby to identify w/ us, wrapped in swaddling cloths to redeem us, and lying in a manger to fill and sustains us!
May God bless you and yours with a wonderful Christmas!