New Is Not Always Better
Okay, I know because of my degrees and seminary training that I am supposed to be supportive of the newer translations of the bible but quite frankly there are moments when new is not always better because something gets lost. A good example is the famous Christmas story from Luke.
I grew up on swaddling clothes instead of “bands of cloth.” I also remember the line in those church Christmas pageants that I often participated in as a child when we heard that the shepherds were sore afraid rather than “terrified.” So let me share with you why new is not always better.
First of all to hear the words “bands of cloth” sounds rather mundane but if you look up the practice of swaddling it was done because the people in Mary and Joseph’s day believed that to not wrap the child tightly form head to toe after bathing the infant in salt would mean that the baby might just have crooked legs. Now let’s just stop a minute and see the power of this practice.
I mean Mary earlier had been visited by an angel and told that this child of hers was to be the Son of God. There was to be no honeymoon fun to create the child. This kid was coming without a middle-man. Why wrap the child in the same package as other infants?
We need to hear swaddling because it is a different word; an old word for an old ordinary practice that mother’s used to help babies grow straight. Jesus was real.
We are in danger in our new age of being desensitized by those smiling wooden or plastic manger figures looking up at us from a neat tiny manger. Jesus becomes “a figure” that is “nice.” It becomes too easy to forget that he was the product of a woman’s labor. I just witnessed my daughter’s labor as she birthed “her firstborn child and laid him in a…well…something new.” Labor is for sure real.
Mary may have had some help when it came to the conception but she received little when it came to the birth. The birthing suite was not available and the mid-wife was off for the Christmas Eve holiday. Mary might have whispered a prayer that night in the midst of smelly animals, “O my angel, where are you now?”
And then Jesus was swaddled because after that birth and where it happened, Mary knew for sure what we need to remember; this wondrous child was one of us. He had no wings. The Wise Men would bring no magic wand. He would be swaddled again in the not too distant future; this time by another Joseph of Arimathea who attempted to help the family find a place to bury their crucified son.
He was swaddled. He needed swaddling because he really was and is Emmanuel; God with us…really with us; then and now.
And lastly; what about sore afraid? As an educated grown up I now know that “sore” simply means “very.” Well, since Christmas begins as a children’s story what I remember as a child is that the shepherds were actually “sore;” you know as in muscle pain. It all started out with people being “really sore.” And here again the manger baby would sure end up being sore for us. He would be “wounded for our transgressing…by his stripes we would be healed.”
I like “sore” because everybody is terrified these days about something. We lose the power of it all.
Jesus was swaddled and the shepherds were sore. It is a sweet, wonderful story but it is more than the Christmas story. It is the beginning of God becoming really real for us. Sometimes new is not always better. Thanks be to God.
So with all this in mind, here is a poem about it all:
She Wrapped Him Tight
She wrapped him tight
Swaddling it was called
So that legs would grow
strong and straight
But he was the child of
an angel’s promise
Why go to the trouble
for he was
Surely straight from
the very start
But no, God meant to
make him real
So that finally a
People would realize
that God was real
God with us