"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." ~ Luke 2:7 KJV
This often-quoted Scripture greets us at Christmastime. We like to think of the sweet Baby Jesus resting quietly and comfortably first in his mother's arms, then sleeping peacefully in a manger filled with sweet-smelling hay. This verse though has other meanings that are relevant in other months besides December.
As is usually the case in studying Scripture, the lesson is in the details. When Scripture is very specific in a description, there is a knowledge-nugget to be gleaned. In this verse, the nugget is in the phrase "swaddling clothes."
According to Hebrew history and culture, swaddling cloths were made from linen or cotton material, and were five to six yards long (15-18 feet). The width of the band was four to five inches. Salt was crushed and pulverized by the midwife until it was in the form of a fine powder. When the baby was born, the baby was first washed in water, then a piece of cloth about a square yard in size was laid out and the baby placed on it in a diagonal position. The baby was then wrapped with the bands so that his arms and legs could not flounder about. We do this today with newborns -- it gives them a sense of security.
The Luke passage mentions that Mary delivered Jesus and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths. These swaddling cloths took a long time to make, and it would have been up to Mary to make them. Like expecting moms who go to the department store and put baby items on registry lists, Mary must have thought about her baby with every turn of the loom while making the bands. She prepared herself while preparing the bands, thinking about the way in which He was conceived, wondering what The Lord God had in store for the baby -- and her. She was humbled and amazed God would choose her to be on this journey with Him. She was preparing to meet her Son -- and her Savior.
In a little less than two months, I will be traveling to Zambia, Africa on a mission trip. While shopping for UNO cards for the orphaned children there, clothing, toiletries, etc, I remembered this passage and the preparation of the swaddling cloths. Not that I'm preparing to meet Jesus, for I know He's already with me, but in preparing for this trip, I get the sense that Jesus is preparing me to witness a mighty work He will do -- in the orphanage, in the mission team, in the bush pastors we will train -- and to be involved in just the preparation is exciting.
When I was editing a nonprofit newsletter, I would write and edit the articles, outline which articles, ads, photos and graphics would go on each page, then methodically design the newsletter using the outline I made. It made preparing the newsletter a consistent process, and eliminated (most) of the stress involved in a monthly publication. The Bible is our "outline" for preparing to meet God in His work -- whether that is a mission trip, a community care day, a building campaign or teaching a Sunday School class.
"In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use.Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work." [2 Timothy 2:20-21]. Once we prepare to do God's work, all jobs take on special meaning, as unto the Lord. From teaching or leading a Bible study, to preaching -- to taking out the trash and changing baby diapers, all should be done in Jesus' name. 1st Corinthians 10:31 states, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."
Once we put down our own egos, that's when God can really use us. It's through His strength and power, not our's, to do His work. For if it were our strength, where would the glory be for Him? He gives the strength and it's for His glory, not our's. "If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." [1st Peter 4:11].
Even as I wrap up a final fundraising push, and finalize packing lists so I don't leave anything (and certainly not go over airline baggage weight limits), it's at the forefront of my mind that God is preparing a great harvest. "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." [Ephesians 2:10]
How humbling it is that He has called me or you or us to share in His work. The Ephesians passage is remarkable to me -- that before I even accepted Christ as Savior, He had prepared this African mission trip for me and the other team members at church.
We are created in Jesus to do His good works, which God Himself prepared and outlined for us to do in and through Him. We are all commanded to fulfill His great commission -- to go into all the world, sharing His gospel, and teaching others about Him. To me, it is incredible that the God of the Universe, who sets the earth on its axis and paints sunsets with a silent word, would whisper my name and the word "Africa." Wow. That makes me love Him more.
To God be the Glory.
This post is reprinted from my original blog, Covenant of Peace, and originally ran on August 7, 2013, two months before my mission trip to Zambia, Africa.
(c) 2014 Terrie McKee
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