For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)
It is difficult to miss the Christmas season in London.
There have been signs everywhere: adverts on TV since the beginning of November, the shops have shelves labelled ‘gifts’ and in many homes we will be counting down from 1st December with advent calendars or candles. But to certain shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem the first Christmas came suddenly.
Out of nowhere, and quite expectedly, an angel appeared and announced the birth of Christ the Saviour; this was followed by a great angelic heavenly celebration. Surely the question that might have occurred to the shepherds once they got over the shock was, “How will we find and identify him?”
Jesus is a very important person, the Saviour, the Christ, none other than the Son of God manifested in the flesh, just not appearing in the way that was expected. So the angel makes it very clear there is the one sign by which they would recognise the one about whom he had been speaking. We see the sign is in three parts: whenever God gives a sign it’s not for mere convenience. Signs are more than signposts – they are the revelation of the heart and mind of God.
Luke 2:12 says, “This will be the sign to you: You’ll find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger”. These are eyewitness details of people who were there that night. But it is more than that; it’s a revelation of who God is, of the ministry of Jesus Christ, and of where you should look for him in your life today – which is not always in the expected places.
The first thing we need to know is that God took upon himself human nature, and there’s no better proof of that than seeing a baby born. God took on human flesh in the fullest way that we can imagine. One of my favourite Bible passages for the Christmas season is John chapter 1 where it says, “The word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us”. There is a beautiful line in the carol O Holy Night, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” As we gaze into the manger we are reminded of the infinite worth we have in his eyes.
Wrapped in swaddling clothes
This is another historical detail from the days when it was common to wrap babies tightly. The most obvious significance is that here was the Lord of Glory, God manifested in the flesh, subjecting himself to all of the flesh’s tight restrictions. We don’t read in the Gospels about Jesus using his divinity to get out of difficulty.
Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, so that when the time came, his righteousness fulfilled all the requirements of God – not just the letter of the Mosaic Law – and not just in word but in heart and mind.
At root level Jesus in his earthly life experienced everything that we go through and so is qualified to be our ever-living, compassionate and faithful high priest who is praying on our behalf in the presence of the Father.
Laying in a manger
All our Christmas cards make it look lovely, but remember Mary had to improvise and use a cattle trough as a crib. The humbleness of Christ’s beginning shows that humility is one of his characteristics. The Bible says Jesus humbled himself unto death – even death on a cross. More than this, I think this is to show that God is on the side of the poor, the disenfranchised and the outcast.
Even the wise men, when they arrived with valuable gifts, had to kneel before a small child.
I constantly find Jesus present in unexpected situations. Just when you are in the midst of difficulty and think that there is no way out, he is going to surprise you, showing up in unexpected places in your life and bringing hope and change.
So this Christmas make Christ, the child of the manger, your guide and the focus of your life!