Merry Christmas—Let’s Talk Sheep!
It’s early, it’s dark, coffee’s on…I love early mornings, it’s my favorite part of the day—before the world is awake.
However, today is different, today is special—today is Christmas.
I hope that the world pauses for a moment at some interval to reflect on the reason why we’ve set aside this day. Today is the day to celebrate Jesus and His dramatic and miraculous entrance into the world.
If you’re like me, then you’ve heard, studied, taught and wrote about the incarnation from just about every angle. And yet, this year a friend showed me a new element about Jesus’ birth that I had NEVER heard before. So I spent a few days looking into it and what I found was overwhelming in that it takes my breath away and brings me into a place where worship comes easily.
Let’s go to Luke
(Feel free to read this out loud to yourself—hearing it does wonders for the heart!)
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Luke 2:1-20 (NKJV)
The Significance of Swaddling
Isn’t it funny how a simple word can be overlooked? How entire translations leave it out—and yet, when understanding the significance behind swaddling in the context of shepherding in Bethlehem during this time period, it adds a new depth to the scriptures?
In Luke's account, we learn this: Mary “brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Then, when the Angel told the shepherds that the Christ had been born, this was the sign so they would recognize Him, “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
For centuries, shepherds outside of Bethlehem specifically raised the lambs to be used for sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple (a few miles away). They were not just lowly shepherds as modern day interpretation would have us believe. They were known as shepard priests with the monumental task of providing the endless spotless lambs for sacrifice for sins.
When these lamb were born they was immediately wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manager until they would calm down after the birthing process so as not to hurt or blemish themselves. Then the shepherds would remove the swaddling and deliver to the mothers. These specific lambs in Bethlehem were raised with one purpose and one alone—to be sacrificed.
The prophet Micah prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). However, he also prophesied the location in Bethlehem:
“And you, O tower of the flock,
The stronghold of the daughter of Zion,
To you shall it come,
Even the former dominion shall come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”
The Tower of the Flock in Hebrew is called Migdal Eder and refers to the exact location on the edge of Bethlehem where these lambs were born. For the shepherd priests, given the sign of both the manager and the swaddling, they would know the exact location to look for the babe—at Migdal Eder, a watchtower. It was in the lower portion of the watchtower that the birthing of the lambs for sacrifice took place.
Here’s a good resource to drive this point home:
“The prophetic significance of Migdal Edar: the priestly shepherds in their fields near Bethlehem on that Christmas Eve knew where to go to find the newborn Messiah, Jesus Christ. He would be found where the angel had told them, wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger in the lower floor of the tower of the flock, Migdal Edar, and He would be there as the Lamb to be sacrificed to take away the sin of the world.
The shepherd/priests had trained all of their lives for this very moment. To the common passerby, seeing a baby in a manger meant very little; however, to the shepherd/priest it was a sign of the coming Messiah. They were keenly aware that the Messiah would one day free the people from their sins. A baby, announced by the heavenly choir, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes was more than they could handle – they “came with haste.” They immediately recognized the sign – this baby was the One born to die for the sins of the world.”
Excerpt by Pastors Gary and Kristi Graner
Dare to Believe Ministries.
It’s it amazing the detail in scripture given by God so we would know that Jesus is the unblemished LAMB of God who took away the sin of the world. Birthed in the same way as the sacrificial lambs, fulfilling every nuance of the Old Testaments scriptures.
And Because I Cannot Help Myself From Listing These Things...
- Jesus was the Lamb chosen before the creation of the world (I Pet. 1:18-20).
- Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).
- Jesus entered the Most Holy Place by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Heb. 9:12).
- Jesus was sacrificed once to take away sins and will appear a second time to bring salvation (Heb. 9:28).
- Jesus eternally owns the name of Lamb of God (Rev. 19:7, 9)
- Our names can be written in the Lamb’s book of Life (Rev. 13:8)—Read about the Gospel here!
I’d like to take a moment to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas. I pray the true spirit behind today’s celebration will take center stage and you will take time to celebrate Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God’s appointment.