THE BABE IN SWADDLING CLOTHES
A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinCharlotte, NCDecember 24, 1995
And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. (Lk 2:12)
The announcement of the Lord’s birth to the shepherds is one of the most dramatic happenings surrounding the Christmas story. We can imagine how peaceful it was for the shepherds, when suddenly, angels came proclaiming that the Christ was born in Bethlehem. Naturally, when the angels first came to them, they were astonished. But after they were told about the Lord’s birth, they cast their fears aside and were eager to see this special Baby for themselves. When they saw the Babe with His mother, they knew this was the Christ, because He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. The angel said that the swaddling clothes would be a sign that this was the Christ. And when the shepherds saw the child in the swaddling clothes, they praised the Lord and spread the news that the Christ was now on the earth.
Swaddling clothes were used by the people during Biblical times for protecting a newborn and keeping the infant warm. The baby was usually wrapped by a single soft cloth that was folded over the body. Then bands of another cloth were wrapped around to keep it snug around the baby. Therefore, when the shepherds saw the Lord, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger, they instantly knew that the Lord had finally come to deliver them. And they rejoiced when they saw Him.
When we read and study the Word with the intent of living according to the Lord’s teachings, we are like the shepherds, searching for the Christ and rejoicing when we find Him. When the shepherds were told that the Christ was on the earth, where He could be found, and how they could recognize Him, they immediately went and searched for the Babe. They wanted to see the Lord for themselves because they already loved Him. If they did not have a love for the Lord, there would have been no incentive for them to go to Bethlehem and search for Him. The same is also true with us. The Word reveals to us Who the Lord is, where He can be found, and how we can recognize Him. The Word serves the same purpose for us as the angels did for the shepherds. But we must already have the desire to see and be receptive of the Lord in order to affirmatively respond to Him. If this is our attitude and approach as we study and reflect from the Word, we will see the Lord as He really is. We will see Him as a God of love and mercy, Who is the One True source of everything that is good and true and the true giver of peace and happiness. If this is the picture we receive from the Word, we are seeing the Lord in swaddling clothes. (AE 706) We are seeing Him as loving God surrounded by His infinite wisdom. But we must be willing to listen before we can be taught about the Lord.
And when we do recognize the Lord as the one true God, we will rejoice just as the shepherds rejoiced when they saw the baby Lord. And like the shepherds, we will make known our vision of the Lord towards others. Not only will we spread the love and wisdom of the Lord verbally, but especially also by the conduct of our lives. People around us will be able to see evidence of our personal reception of the Lord in our lives. They will see a vivid demonstration of the contentment and joy of the eternal life that the Lord is providing. And when others see the Lord in the manner we live our lives, we are spreading the news about our individual birth of the Lord just as the shepherds spread the news about the birth of the Lord upon the earth.
It is interesting that the Lord’s clothing had an important significance all throughout His life upon the earth. Here, at His birth, the swaddling clothes helped testify to the shepherds that this was the Christ, the One Who must be worshiped as the God of heaven and earth. Later, when the Lord was active in His public ministry, He privately took three of His disciples aside, Peter, James, and John, and was transfigured before them. During this time, the Lord’s clothing became “white as the light”. And finally, while the Lord was being crucified, His clothing was being taken by the soldiers. The Lord had two garments than, an inner garment and an outer garment. The soldiers tore His outer garment into four pieces, but the inner garment remained in tact. Therefore, in these major events of the Lord’s life, His clothing had an important part in them.
At, first, we see the Lord in swaddling clothes, like the shepherds. We first regard the Lord as the One Who must be obeyed. But initially we do not know what He would have us do. The shepherds certainly recognized, and confessed that this Babe was the Christ, and they rejoiced in that recognition. However, they did not know many details about the Lord’s teachings or how He wanted them to live. It certainly was positive that they accepted and regarded the Lord as the Christ, and recognized He must be obeyed. However, they could not advance very far because they did not have the Lord’s words available to instruct them. When we see the Lord in the soft swaddling clothes, we are willing to confess that the Lord is God, and He has the authority to instruct us what we should do. This willingness to be led by the Lord is pictured by the shepherds honoring the Babe Who was wrapped in swaddling clothes.
However, for our lives to really change, we not only need the willingness to be led by the Lord, we also need truth. We need to be instructed and taught how we are to love, think, and act. Just having intentions to do good does not by itself put our lives in agreement with Divine order. We need to know truths from the Lord so we know what good is and how we can attain it. When we learn truths from the Lord’s Word with the intent to apply them to life, the Lord will be transfigured before us, and His clothing will become as white as the light. When we can see the Lord’s guidance in His Word, that is like the Lord being present with Moses and Elijah, who represented the entire Word. When the will of the Lord is seen in His Word, the truths in the Word become shinning white. They clearly stand out and give light. The brighter the light becomes, the more we recognize the very Divinity of the Lord, and how we can be conjoined with Him. Also, the more we can see the loves, thoughts, and acts we are to remove and avoid. We don’t see the obstacles to eternal life while we are in darkness. That is why we need to be instructed in the truths of the Lord’s Word. Truth makes our evil loves and habits visible so we are aware of them and can take action to have them removed. The clearer we see what we are to shun in our lives and how we are to live, the brighter the clothing of the Lord becomes in our understanding of truth.
While we are being instructed from the Word in truths, we are changed from being like the shepherds to being like the disciples. We know more about how we should live, whereby we can become more effective in a life that is genuinely good. The shepherds, when they saw the baby Lord in swaddling clothes could very well have had the same desire to live a good and useful life as the disciples had. But the disciples had more truths from the Lord than the shepherds. This allowed them to be more effective in manifesting the Lord’s life in their lives, and also to be more effective in spreading the news about the Lord’s presence to others. Therefore, because the disciples were instructed more about life than the shepherds, they were able to see the Lord’s clothing become as white as the light.
However, if we chose to reject the Lord’s leading for our lives, we are than like the soldiers at the Lord’s crucifixion. We seek to put Him to death, by preventing Him from having any influence in our lives. Instead of rejoicing at His presence, we despise the Lord, mock, and seek to destroy Him. While the Lord hung on the cross, the soldiers took the His clothing for themselves. In this instance, we read of the Lord having two pieces of clothing, a tunic or inner garment and an outer garment. They tore the outer garment into four parts, but the inner garment they left in tact and cast lots for it.
We do the same by rejecting the Lord in our lives. The Lord’s clothing represents Divine truth. The outer garment signifies external truth, while the inner garment signifies spiritual or internal truth. When the outer garment was torn apart, that pictured the tearing apart of the truth that appears externally in the Word. It is taking what we read from the Word and twisting its message around so it says what we want it to say. When we make the Word confirm our prejudices and selfish desires, that is like the soldiers, taking the Lord’s outer garment and tearing it apart whereby it is no longer useful.
Nevertheless, the inner garment was not harmed. No matter how much we may pervert the letter of the Word, we will never be able to destroy the spiritual truths which are within it. It will always be present, giving light about the Lord and a true life of charity. The Word will always be Divine, and the Lord will always be able to give instruction through It. We can never make the Word obsolete. This is because its internal sense will always treat of the Lord Himself, as He genuinely is, and this makes the Word invincible. We can make the Word non-effective for ourselves, but we can never destroy its usefulness for those who are a part of the Lord’s Church on the earth.
However, if we are true disciples of the Lord, we can see the Lord as the shepherds saw Him. The simple yet profound recognition that the Lord is truth itself and has the true teachings about life is the swaddling clothes we can see surround Him. To truly recognize the Lord as the One Who speaks and teaches truth, there must also be the willingness to receive Him. If there is not the desire to learn from the Lord, how we are to live, than there is no room for the Lord in us just as there was no room for Him in the inn. But if we are willing to learn, than from shepherds we also become His disciples whereby the swaddling clothing becomes brighter and more beautiful to look upon. As the Lord’s Divinity becomes clearer to us, the more we will rejoice in the life and the happiness it produces for ourselves and for others. And we will return to our everyday responsibilities with a new and more joyful outlook about our lives. Just as the shepherds returned to their sheep more joyful, so will we return to our occupations and responsibilities with a more optimistic and peaceful attitude. And we will be like the shepherds, “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” (Lk. 2:20) AMEN.