The Christmas rags remind us that God has shown His greatest love in the most ignoble birth. In that, He can empathize with us He too was brought down low. He left the splendor of heaven to recline in a feeding trough made for pigs. Why? So that we would never wonder if God was too busy to notice us, too high and lofty to care for us, or too concerned with other matters to reach you. He proved His love for us when He left the highest places in heaven to dwell in the lowest parts of earth.
When our Lord visited the earth, He didn’t come in on a 1000-horsepower jet-fueled celestial chariot for everyone to see. He didn’t topple the world’s greatest empire with heaven’s version of the seal team six. And He did not sit down upon His rightful throne to reign. At least not at first. He came initially to the warm, quiet darkness of a poor virgin’s womb, just as He promised (Gen. 3:15).
In so doing, our Lord submitted to the same human gestation that He joyfully designed. He was fed from the same umbilical cord He artfully invented. And He became dependent upon the mother He wove together in his grandmother’s womb. The artist indeed painted Himself into His own masterpiece.
Upon His birth, the King of all glory wasn’t welcomed with festivals, celebrations, and feasting befitting His majesty. No heralds were sent out from Bethlehem that evening. There were no government holidays or observances sanctioned. Just the humble cry of a newborn babe wrapped in common rags. But why?
Here, we must lift our gaze above the Hallmark card nativity scenes to see the point of what was happening. Jesus wasn’t draped with a warm, cuddly, baby blanket his mother got at Target. He was not swallowed up in a plush baggy onesie because auntie Elizabeth bought him the wrong size. Instead, he was bound with tight strips of linen, making him look more like a miniature mummy than a precious moments model. But again, why?
At that time, such a tight and restrictive binding was used to simulate a mother’s womb. A newborn child had recently spent more than 9 months cramped in an ever-tightening uterus. So, bindings like this would have made the baby most comfortable as he adapted to a wide-open world. But for Jesus, the symbolism is far more profound and gets right at the heart of the Gospel. Let us explore.
First, we know from Scripture that the angels directed a group of herdsmen to go and find the child. He also told them to view these linen rags, wrapped around the body of Christ, as a great sign unto them, convincing them of who He is and what He had come to do. It says in Luke 2
“In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” – Luke 2:8-14
The rags upon Jesus’ body were a sign meant to be looked at, noticed, and pondered in such a way that they would come to believe these three specific truths.
He was born for their good news.
He was born for the world’s great joy.
He was born to be Savior, Christ, and Lord.
Born for Their Good News
When the Shepherds viewed those shabby rags, it was meant to be a sign unto them. It was to be a good message. A joyful message. It was a definitive statement from God that communicated eternally good news to His people. But there is more for us to consider here.
The word used in the text by the angelic fleet is the Greek word εὐαγγελίζω, which is where we get our verb “to evangelize” or, more accurately, “to proclaim the Gospel.” In those days, that word did not have a religious connotation. Instead, it was purely political. At that time, a “gospel” message was a good news report about a victory in battle, a call to celebrate an emperor’s birthday, or a declaration that a new child had been born into the royal family. When these good news events occurred, singing heralds would be sent throughout the empire to alert the people so they could celebrate together.
But, just because something was good news in Rome did not necessarily make it good news worth celebrating in Judah.