Swaddling clothes—Luke 2:7

“She wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a place for animals, because there was no place available for them in the lodging place”—Luke 2:7

Some of these words (such as lodging place) have developed greater specificity in Christmas traditions (such as an inn). The term often rendered “inn” (but here translated generically as “lodging place”) is not the more technical for “inn” found later in Luke 10:34 (in the parables of the Good Samaritan), but the term for the upstairs guest room in Luke 22:11. That was where Jesus would break bread and declare his imminent death.

In the Bible, though, the important point is that lack of space in the human lodging place meant that Jesus was born in a place housing domestic animals—that is, the lowliest of places. The Greek term for the place for animals appears just once more in the New Testament, also in Luke, where Jesus is reminding his critics that they lead even their ox and donkey away from such a place to water it (Luke 13:15).

The “swaddling cloths” were strips of cloth used to wrap a baby so that (ancients thought) this would help their limbs grow straight. Why does Luke mention these cloths twice? Their mention highlights an irony: after Jesus came into the world, his mother wrapped him in cloths. After Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea wrapped his body in a linen cloth. After wrapping Jesus in cloths, Mary laid him in a manger, a place for animals. After wrapping Jesus in a linen cloth, Joseph of Arimathea laid his body in a tomb, a place for dead bodies.

Jesus shared our humanity, from birth through death—from womb to tomb. He shared our celebrations and our sorrows. We do not serve a God who cannot identify with our pains or our struggles. We have a high priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses,” “who was tested in all the same ways we are, yet without sinning” (Heb 4:15).

The next time Luke mentions clothing, however, it is that of glorious angels (Luke 24:4), before Jesus promises that his disciples will be clothed with divine power by God’s Spirit (24:49). He shared our lowly estate so we might share in his glory forever.

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