Imperfect Christmas (Luke 2:6-7)

MOTIVATE

How many of you are good wrappers?

  • Not a beat box rapper, but a present box wrapper.  

Who likes wrapping paper?

  • To me, either get a bag or one better – hold present behind back and I’ll close my eyes and then you bring out saying “surprise!” It will have the same effect.
  • But the reality is while a bag is easier, it doesn’t have the same presentation and many people prefer a nicely wrapped present.

When opening – do you peel or rip?

  • Young families get excited when their children can finally start to rip the paper… because ripping is the best way to open a gift… which somewhat reflects the futility of wrapping 😊.

Now that we’ve come full circle, today’s message will explore the significance of imperfect wrapping of the Savior’s birth.

EXAMINE         Luke 2:6-7 (Imperfect Wrappings)

Luke 2:1-5
1  In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
2  This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

4  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Jesus was wrapped in humble beginnings.

The conventional wisdom is that kings are in high places and leaders rule from seats of power. But, God is teaching us true greatness starts with humility. 

  • Bethlehem was a small city, several miles outside Jerusalem, which was the capital of Israel.
    • Recently I was in contact with someone from MD State Police in regards to a question and the person asked where I was located. My response was Severna Park and he asked, “Where is that?” Most people do not know smaller towns.
    • Remember the magi first traveled to Jerusalem to seek out the Messiah. Yet, the chief priests and scribes remarked the prophecy from Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
  • Bethlehem… all due to God’s work of connecting Ruth (Gentile) and Boaz, leading to sons Obed, then grandson Jesse, then great grandson David; the great grandmother of David was in some aspects a lynchpin for the promised Messiah.
    • àGrandparents can have a great and far-reaching impact; beyond parents, are most influential even more than peers on teens.[1]
      • Heritage: telling the family history provides a sense of purpose and direction.
      • Experience: sharing wisdom learned from mistakes hopefully not repeated.
      • Adventure: the privilege of not having full responsibility of the parent to try new things and even spoil.
  • Additionally, other Jewish writings from the Talmud and Mishna tell us about an area in Bethlehem known as “Migdal Eder” or “Tower of the Flock.” It was here cattle and sheep were positioned outside the city for shepherds to caretake for the temple sacrifices. This means the shepherds in the Bethlehem fields were not just any simple shepherds, but facilitators of the Old Covenant sacrificial system. So, when these shepherds heard the good news of great joy for all people, and that the Savior was born, it truly was awesome news and an awakening of a new era for salvation. Such news would have spread quickly.
    • Micah 4:8, 5:2-5 “And you, O [Migdal Eder] tower of the flock; hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem… But you, O Bethlehem, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore, he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers {That’s us!} shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”

Through Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem and the Nativity setting, God is teaching the world strength comes from humility.

  • Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 5:3
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt 5:5)
  •  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)
  • “this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isa 66:2)

If we want to grow to be more like Jesus, we need to ask help to become humbler. It’s rare to wake up and ask, “How can I be more humble today?” So, here are some helpful applications.[2]

  • Consider the cross. While it is fitting to celebrate Christmas, let us not forget the reason for the season: Christ was born to die. Calvary was calling and pressing upon the life of Jesus and is perhaps why Jesus lived in obscurity for the bulk of His life.
    • “Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”[3]
    • “When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of Glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.”[4]
    • “Every time we look at the cross, Christ seems to be saying to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”[5]  
    • The cross breaks our heart, bows our head, and bends our knees.
    • —> Considering the cross may necessitate a visible symbol in frequent eyesight, or frequent meditation on Scriptures and songs that celebrate the cross and point you to worship Jesus.
  • Cultivate gratitude. Gratitude is the soil in which pride and sinfulness does not easily grow. We should strive to say “thank you” in almost every interaction we have with others. Gratitude overcomes griping. It expresses value for others and reminds us we are not independent but interdependent. I need you, and you need me.
  • Embrace rest. Many of us are fast paced, task oriented, schedule keeping, hard working, and stressed out individuals. Relaxation is awkward and sleep is nearly impossible. But sleep is God’s daily reminder that we are not in control and He is sovereign. When we sleep, we are laying our full weight on a bed and trusting a frame to hold and keep us. This is a picture of what it means to be one of God’s children. In fact, part of living the Christian life is learning to sleep to the glory of God; believing His wisdom, trusting His work, and resting in His grace. We can sleep because God doesn’t (Ps 121:4; cf Ps 3:5; 4:8; 91:1; 127:2; Prov 3:24; Mt 8:24; 11:28-30)

Jesus was wrapped with ordinary means.

Luke emphasizes twice that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths (Lk 2:7, 12).

I can remember as a first-time dad learning how to swaddle. Every time I finished, I felt so proud of myself holding a burrito baby that couldn’t move its arms or legs and only smile… or do some other things that wanted me to pass the child to someone else. The rule in our house was, “if you smelled it, you get to change.” Unfortunately, my nose doesn’t work so well ;p

Anyways, we know many benefits of swaddling infants: helping them to feel secure as in the womb, protecting them from scratching self or hurting a limb, as their bones are still forming, and also helping the baby to sleep on its back to reduce the risk of SIDs. Swaddling isn’t new and was also an ancient practice.

According to Ezekiel 16:4, the practice of childbirth included cutting the umbilical cord, cleansing the baby with water, then applying olive oil and salt as an antiseptic.[6] Salt was also likely used in temple dedication. The baby would also be wrapped with long linen or cotton bands, and on some occasions the bands were marked in some way, perhaps with embroidered family symbols to identify the child.[7]

The point is that swaddling cloths are not a unique mark of poverty, but simply a mark of humanity. The God of glory and King of creation should have had a royal reception into earth, but instead it was a standard treatment. The fullness of God and helpless human babe. Why did God choose these circumstances? Doesn’t wrapping paper and positive presentation matter? God chose to enter our world with ordinary humanity so that all peoples can relate to Him. Jesus came to give not take… and isn’t that the true message of Christmas!?!

Looking further, there were two other wrappings of the entrance of Jesus: born at night (Lk 2:8) and lying in a manger (Lk 2:12).

Night occurs in a temporal sense but is also a common time God chooses to encounter individuals.

  • Creation started with darkness (Gen 1:1).
  • Abram – “look to the [night] stars and see if you can number them… and Abram believed the Lord and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:4-6)
  • Jacob’s dream of God descending (Gen 28)
  • Samuel’s calling (1 Sam 3)
  • Solomon’s dream with the Lord before kingship (1 Kings 3:5)
  • Daniel’s revelations (Dan 2:19; 7:2, 7, 13)

God chooses the backdrop of night to reveal His best and brightest work. While night can be dark and difficult, every day begins in the middle of night. God does not slumber or sleep, and is working behind the scenes to fill the day. The same was true with Jesus’s birth at night, as His life is the light of the world.

  • Whatever circumstance you are enduring, it is temporary – even if it’s lifelong – God promises to see you through it.

Looking further, the other sign to the shepherds was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Lk 2:7, 12). Historians are not certain – either the Nativity was in a cave, likely close by the inn, or was in a caravansary with no vacant rooms but the uncovered courtyard area with animals. The Son of God was born not in a majestic palace, nor the presence of world leaders, but instead in meager circumstances. The Nativity setting was anything but stately, sanitary, or saintly, because Jesus comes for all sinners.

Jesus entered a world preoccupied with activity and with little attention but a small family and a few shepherds. Still today, people are distracted and distant from giving attention to Jesus.

  • How many have dresser drawers? Does anyone mix items in those drawers? I’m not saying you should… my drawers have my own organization… “there’s a place for everything and everything in its place.”

    BUT we often do the same spiritually.
    • We have a drawer for work, a drawer for how we relate to a dating partner or spouse, another for family – and then another for how we treat those on the outside because we like to keep certain appearances. 
    • We have a drawer for recreation and entertainment, for where we go and what we watch/listen on screens.
    • We have a drawer for politics and what’s preferred and what’s tolerated.
    • We have a drawer for church for how much time and money we can dedicate, but with limits of course. We love God because He gives us forgiveness and freedom… but there are certain places in our life where we expect that liberty to mean we’re free from God’s commands.
       
  • YET, God wants to live in our ordinary, mundane, and everyday moments. Unfortunately, many people try to compartmentalize their Christianity and Jesus says, “I’m either LORD of all, or I’m not LORD at all.”  
    • “unto you is born this day – a Savior, who is Christ the LORD” (Lk 2:11)
  • Our purpose as Christians is to make room for Jesus on the throne of our heart.
  • Activity: Take a piece of paper and fold in half both ways, then fold in half one more time so you’ll have 8 squares. Write each day of the week on a single square and at the end of each day write down places where you see God at work in your life or perhaps where you’ve missed Him. At end of week, on 8th square pray and ask God for a summary reflection and response He wants you to make.
     

APPLY/THINK

In Jesus’s life there would be another time He was wrapped. After His death, they wrapped the body of Jesus in a linen shroud and placed Him in the tomb. Interestingly, Luke’s Gospel is the only Gospel to mention the swaddling clothes or the grave clothes (Lk 24:12). The infant in the manger would no stay swaddled, and the crucified body would not stay dead.  

This Christmas we need to be reminded the gift may be wrapped differently but God still has a gift for us to open and use. Let us not leave God’s gifts by the wayside because we’re deceived by the wrapping paper.


[1] https://www.barna.com/research/teen-role-models-who-they-are-why-they-matter/

[2] Some thoughts inspired by C.J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness, ch 5-6.

[3] Martyn Lloyd Jones, as quoted in Charles Swindoll, So You Want To Be Like Christ: Eight Essentials To Get You There, p. 139.

[4] Isaac Watts.

[5] John Stott, The Message of Galatians, 179

[6] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p.670.

[7] John W. Welch, What On Earth Are Swaddling Clothes. Also see Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, pp.35-36.

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