December 26, 2015

Nativity: December 26, 2015


“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:7)

As soon as Mary gave “birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:6b-7) What are “swaddling clothes” and why did she do so? Ancient Jewish customs included the swaddling of the newborn infant. Swaddling cloths were narrow bands of cloth wrapped around a newborn child to restrain its movements and quiet him. Pope Benedict XVI helps us understand further: “Mary wrapped the child in swaddling cloths. Without yielding to sentimentality, we may imagine with what great love Mary approached her hour and prepared for the birth of her child. Iconographic tradition has theologically interpreted the manger and the swaddling cloths in terms of the theology of the Fathers. The child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death … The manger was seen as a kind of altar.” [3] (emphasis added) 

As soon as Mary held her “firstborn son” (Luke 2:7), the very next thing she did was wrap him in swaddling clothes. During the nine months of her pregnancy Mary’s body prepared for the birth of the infant in her womb. However, during those nine months Mary prepared for more than the day of the birth, she prepared for a new life defined by the identity of her son as the Messiah. Mary wasn’t preparing for a day (Christmas), she was preparing for a person (Jesus). And, this person is the Messiah. So, the very next thing she did was wrap him in the very cloths that wrap him as a child, yet at the same time point to his destiny as the Savior. 

Today is the day after Christmas. Most of the world spent the first 24 days of December getting ready for a day. The world was focused on a holiday. The 25th was simply another day circled on the calendar. Therefore, today most of the world is moving on to what is next. For them Christmas was a day. New Year’s is the next day. The world is moving on to the next thing. They will take down the Christmas tree. They will clean up the house from holiday dinners. They will pack up one set of decorations and open up the next. Our secular culture, because it focuses on events rather than people, is gearing up for the next big celebration. 

Contrast that with Mary and Joseph in the nativity. They weren’t preparing for a day; they were preparing for a person. Furthermore, this person would change their life forever. Mary’s focus is on the person. She wraps him in swaddling clothes because she knows full well that this tiny person is the most important thing in life. The next thing for Mary is Jesus … the Messiah … the savior. Mary didn’t move on to the next diversion. In fact, she reminded herself through swaddling clothes that life would never be the same again. 

What’s next for you? What is your interior attitude today? Are you committed to the person of Jesus … or are you feeling the lure to move on to the next day on the calendar? Spend some time with Mary. Hold the very child that she held. The more you experience the grace of the nativity the easier it will be to keep your eyes focused on what’s next – namely, Jesus. 

For your prayer

The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have sung the Psalms during the most silent of nights outside Bethlehem. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 80, the Responsorial Psalm from last Sunday. Read the refrain: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” We want to turn our gaze back to God. Read the refrain, and the Psalm, a few times. Consider the sweetness of their singing. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in 2:7. Be in the scene. Be with Mary and Joseph. Be with Mary as she focuses on Jesus. Be with Mary as she wraps him in swaddling clothes – the bandages that prefigure the hour of his death. Now, ask Mary if you too can hold her son. Ask Mary if you can hold Jesus … and remember … you’re holding God. 

Today's prayer

“Father, I desire to keep my focus on you. I give you permission to hold my inner gaze so that I don’t move on to another holiday.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 68

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© Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication.