Swaddling Clothes

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Presentation of Jesus in the Temple - by BELLINI, Giovanni -
from Galleria Querini Stampalia, Venice

 

What are swaddling clothes?

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For years I thought swaddling clothes meant a blanket or some similar type of material used to keep the baby Jesus warm. But swaddling clothes are something all together different...

It was a common belief of the day that in order for a newborn infant's arms and legs to grow straight and strong they needed to be tightly wrapped at birth. Babies were wrapped from their shoulders to their feet with long strips of cloth 4-5 inches wide and 15-20 feet long. The act of wrapping the child up so tightly and completely was called "swaddling"; and the strips of cloth were called "swaddling clothes".

Ironically, these same strips of cloth used to wrap the limbs of babies were also used for wrapping the bodies of the dead. How appropriate that Jesus' life on earth would begin this way...

As we enter into this Holy Week celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, which we call Christmas, we are reminded of the reason He came to earth. Jesus Christ loved you and I so much that He came to earth to offer His life as the full and complete payment for the sins of the world. And through His death we can each have the gift of eternal life - spending eternity in heaven with Him. And that is the greatest gift we could ever receive!

It has been said that Jesus Christ paid a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay.

For Christmas let us celebrate this Good News, the true reason for the season, with the words the angel brought the shepherds in the field some 2000 years ago on the night Jesus was born; words that are just as appropriate for each of us today:

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11).

 

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Salted and Swaddled

Whenever a son of a king, a prince, was born, that child was "salted" and "swaddled". To salt a child meant that soon after birth the newborn babe was gently washed with water having a portion of salt in it. Salt symbolized the qualities of truth and honesty. Bathing a newborn in salt water indicated that the child would have these characteristics. His words would be "salted".

After salting the newborn child, strips of fine linen cloth were wrapped from head to foot, with only a part of his face being left uncovered so he could breathe. The baby's body and limbs were held very straight when wrapped in this fashion. These linen strips were not rags and did not mean that Joseph and Mary were poverty-stricken when they wrapped Jesus, but rather, this was a sign to God that these parents would raise the child to be upright before the Lord, and that he would be free from crookedness and waywardness. The babe would normally be left in the swaddling clothes for only a brief period of time, while the parents took time to meditate and make their commitment to God concerning the sacred trust which was given to them in having the child.

Salting and swaddling were recognizably significant to an Oriental person. In Biblical times, any child born to nobility or royalty would be salted and swaddled. If this were not done, there would be doubt regarding the person's integrity both in his youth and his adulthood.

Note the following insult in the Old Testament to unfaithful Jerusalem: Ezekiel 16:4 . . . thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.

To say to a noble-born person that he had not been salted or swaddled was to indicate he was unreliable, dishonest, without integrity - - as though his parents had not gone through the proper ritual at his birth.

According to the customs of the time, Mary and Joseph washed Jesus in salt water before they swaddled Him, indicating that He was of royal lineage, as God's Son and as Heir to the throne of David.

 

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