As we approach Christmas, many of us are beginning to think about wrapping and unwrapping presents. Children especially are looking forward to unwrapping presents and are making up their wish lists…
In the biblical account of the first Christmas, we are told that the baby Jesus is to be found ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes’, and lying in a manger (Luke 2:7, 12).
The infant Jesus is wrapped up. Doubtless warm and snug despite the primitive surroundings. In his cloth wrapping he’s no different from any other well-cared-for baby of his time. In that time and place, it was normal to wrap your baby in strips of cloth. What was NOT normal, of course, was to be laid in a feeding trough in a shelter for animals.
Everything in scripture is food for thought, profitable for reflection, so let’s reflect on Jesus’ being wrapped up in cloths.
For one, it’s a picture of scripture. The Bible is the wrapping in which Jesus is found. – the New Testament records the life of Jesus, and the Old Testament speaks of him and longs for him in so many different ways. The Old Testament is the foil or setting for the glorious jewel it highlights and points towards – Emmanuel, God with us.
For two, Jesus comes to us wrapped in the clothes of his culture and his time. To understand him and hear him speak to us today, we need not only the Spirit of God to bring his Word to life, but some hard work and imagination to take into account the original setting in which he lived and taught.
For three, Jesus is God’s secret, a mystery kept under wraps for centuries and only revealed through the coming of Jesus (e.g. Ephesians 1:9).
For four, there is much yet to be unwrapped – for we still “eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1 Corinthians 1:7). He will be revealed on “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8) – i.e. when Jesus returns to bring in the fullness of his kingdom.
For five, there is a Jesus to be unwrapped in all our hearts. Each person is made in the image of God, and that tarnished image within us needs to be unwrapped and exposed to the light of Christ. We are to put off the old clothes of selfishness and falsehood, the old self, and clothe ourselves with Christ (Rom 13:14) and every quality of his humanity – compassion, kindness, humility and above all, love (Colossians 3:12-14). This is at the heart of the Advent journey.
For six, Jesus was again bound in strips of cloth when he was buried. This ordinary, extraordinary child is born to die to reconcile us all to God and raise us with him to eternal life in the new creation.
His burial cloths would have been like those of Lazarus whom he raised from the dead. On Jesus’ command, Lazarus came out of his tomb still wrapped in linen strips of cloth. Jesus told his friends to unbind him.
So finally, for seven, with Jesus’ help (and at his command) we can unwrap one another from the deathly things which bind us, preventing us from being fully alive – especially the hurt and pain which festers within us, unresolved. Perhaps for most of us, this will be a gradual process of healing. And it will come from being loved and listened to and prayed with. All of us can do that. This too is at the heart of the Advent journey together.
May God bless you richly in your ‘spiritual’ journey of unwrapping, and in every way as we celebrate Advent and Christmas together.
With much love