Christmas Sermon: The Swaddling Clothes of the Divine Infant


“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”


One of the most popular images of Christmas is assuredly this one: the child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Even though I had heard these words many times and seen many images of the child Jesus wrapped up in His swaddling clothes, I never really understood what Mary had done in wrapping up Her Child until quite recently.

My sister-in-law was getting my one-month old niece ready to sleep and she said that it was time for her swaddle. (For any younger ones among us, to “swaddle” a child means to wrap him tightly in a long cloth.) They wrapped her in the swaddle, she explained, because it kept her from moving, and thus from waking herself up. If she wasn’t swaddled, then every time she raised up her arms she woke herself up. So not only did being wrapped up – swaddled – keep her warm and cozy, but the fact of not being able to move, being restricted, meant not only that she wasn’t going to wake up her parents as much, but that she would have the good night’s sleep she needed to keep growing and developing.

It is interesting that 2,000 years later, mothers are using the same method to calm their small children that the Virgin Mother used that night so long ago. This is not a mere curiosity, but an important lesson about the deeper meaning of the mystery of the birth of the divine Infant that we celebrate this (night / day).

In seeing my sister-in-law wrap her child in her swaddle, I saw the story of the Holy Family of Bethlehem being lived out before my eyes. What we celebrate this (night / day) is not just something to be remembered, but an invitation to participate in the life of those holy persons who, in a mysterious, seemingly inconsequential manner, witnessed the arrival of the Savior of the human race.

Hearing this story, or seeing the manger scene, our hearts are filled with emotion. There is something very particular, a feeling unique to Christmas – something warm, sweet, and comforting. Before the manger scene, thinking about the mystery of God-made-man in the little child of Bethlehem, our hearts are moved in a way that is somehow different than every other excitement or joy that we experience.

Why? Because something absolutely unique and different than all the other events of history has occurred: The one God, in the person of His Son, has come down from Heaven to take on our human flesh, sharing with us the weakness of the human condition. Because even though He is God, we now have something in common with Him.

In order for this to be true, there has to be something that is called “human nature,” something that all the members of the human race have in common. This idea, though, the existence of a common human nature that is received and not defined by the individual, is under attack by a world that emphasizes not what we share in common but my own identity that I can determine, instead of receiving who I am from the God who made me and who came to take human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.

In this world, we are invited to write our own story, to determine whatever our truth is, to determine my own paths because I know what is best for me. But the instinct of faith that takes us spiritually to Bethlehem before the manger scene gives us a very different invitation: to discover who we are not in a story written by ourselves, but to find our story in the story of Jesus.

In His story, everything is connected. On Sunday, as we celebrate the Holy Family, we will hear how He was lost for three days in Jerusalem, prefiguring the three days He spent in the tomb before rising from the dead. And the wood of the crib, a tradition tells us, comes from the same tree as the wood of the Cross. And in the adorable swaddling clothes of Bethlehem, we can see an image of another cloth with which His body will be wrapped before He is laid in the tomb.

The world would tell us that finding our story in the story of Jesus is slavery, a lack of freedom in not being able to determine for ourselves what is most important in our lives. But in the child wrapped in swaddling clothes, the same Son of God who will be wrapped in the burial shroud, we find a deeper and truer freedom.

The swaddling clothes seem to restrict that baby, making her less free. But instead, they do the opposite. They make her more free to sleep, to have the strength to continue growing at the rapid pace of an infant, so that she can grow to become the amazing person that right now we can only imagine. What seems to restrict her actually makes her thrive in true freedom. And what seems to restrict us, when seen as a part of living out Jesus’s story in our own lives, actually makes us thrive too.

The night before His body was wrapped in the burial shroud that the swaddling clothes foretold, Christ accepted what seemed to be another limitation. He wrapped His own body in the appearances of bread and wine. To live the story of Jesus – the one in whom God was made man and 33 years later gave His life for us, rose from the dead, and now awaits us in glory and power – this is not something merely sentimental. We are invited to discover ourselves in the story of Jesus when we eat His flesh and drink His blood in the Eucharist. He has passed through the swaddling clothes of the manger and the nails of the Cross to arrive at the tabernacle, where the same body that the Virgin wrapped in swaddling clothes and lay in a manger waits for us today.

So in the story of Jesus’s birth, we see not just a cute story from ages long past, but an invitation to make His story our own story as well. Our hearts are filled with excitement and love when we see Him in the manger because we know that He now shares something in common with us. This means that we have a human nature, something that every member of the human race shares in common now with Jesus. If that is the case, then who we are isn’t just something to determine for ourselves, but we can learn more about who we are from the story of Jesus. He followed the will of His Heavenly Father at all times and showed us the path to true freedom not by determining His own identity, but in self-sacrifice and self-surrender.

In the manger of Bethlehem, we find the mystery of God accepting the weakness of the human condition – like us in all things but sin. Wrapped in swaddling clothes, He teaches us that we find the path to true happiness when we see the story of our lives as a part of the story of His.


The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson

Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen

The Nativity of the Lord, A.D. MMXXI




“Hoy les ha nacido, en la ciudad de David, un Salvador, que es el Mesías, el Señor. Esto les servirá de señal: encontrarán al niño envuelto en pañales y recostado en un pesebre.”


Una de las imágenes más difundidas de la Navidad es seguramente ésta: el niño envuelto en pañales. Y aunque yo había escuchado estas palabras tantas veces y visto también muchas imágenes del niño Jesús envuelto en sus pañales, no llegué a entender el significado de lo que María había hecho hasta muy recién.

Mi cuñada estaba poniendo a mi sobrina – quien tenía solamente un mes de vida – a dormir, y dijo que iba a empañar a mi sobrina para que durmiera mejor. (“Time to put her in her swaddle,” dijo – pañales en inglés es un “swaddle.”) (For the younger ones, when we say that Jesús was “envuelto en pañales” o “wrapped in swaddling clothes” it means He was wrapped up tightly with a long cloth.)

Lo hizo, nos explicó mi cuñada, porque los pañales restringen su capacidad de moverse. Sin los pañales, cada vez que levantó sus brazos, se despertó. Entonces, no solamente se sentía muy cómoda y calentita, sino el hecho de no poder moverse, estaba mejor en tener el descanso que se necesita para todo el crecimiento que está haciendo el cuerpo de un bebé tan joven.

Es interesante que 2,000 años más tarde, las madres no tienen mejor manera de calmar a sus hijos recién nacidos que el mismo método que usó la Virgen aquella noche miles de años detrás. Pero en eso, mis hermanos, no solamente vemos una curiosidad, sino una lección importante en el significado más profundo del misterio del nacimiento del Niño Dios que celebramos esta noche.

En ver a mi cuñada envolviendo a su hija en pañales, vi la historia de la Santa Familia en Belén viviendo frente a mis ojos. Lo que celebramos en esta noche no es solamente algo para recordar, sino una invitación a participar en la vida de aquellas personas que, en una manera misteriosa, aparentemente inconsecuencia, vivieron la llegada del salvador de la raza humana.

A escuchar esta historia, o a ver el pesebre, el nacimiento, nuestros corazones se llenan de emoción. Sentimos algo especial y particular, un sentido suave, dulce y calentito. Es algo particular, un gozo único, un sentido diferente de todos los otros, el que llena el corazón del creyente frente al pesebre.

¿Y por qué? Porque ha pasado algo único y diferente de todos los otros eventos de la historia: El Dios único, en la persona de su Hijo, ha bajado del cielo a tomar nuestra carne humana, a compartir con nosotros la debilidad de la condición humana. Porque aunque Él es Dios, ya tenemos algo en común con Él.

Pero para que esto sea verdad, tiene que haber una cosa que se llama “la naturaleza humana,” algo que todos los miembros de la raza humana comparten. Pero esta idea está bajo ataque en un mundo que enfatiza no lo que tenemos en común, sino mi propia identidad que yo puedo determinar, en vez de recibir que soy yo del Dios quien me creyó.

En este mundo, estamos invitados a escribir nuestra propia historia, a determinar todo lo que es verdad para nosotros mismos – lo que es “mi verdad” – a determinar mis propios caminos porque yo puedo determinar lo que es mejor para mí. Pero el instinto de fe que nos lleva hacia belén, hacia el pesebre, nos hace una invitación muy diferente. Nos invita a descubrir quiénes somos no en una historia escrita por nosotros mismos, sino en la historia de Jesús.

In this world, we are invited to write our own story, to determine whatever our truth is, or what my truth is, to determine my own paths because I know what is best for me. But the instinct of faith that takes us spiritually to Bethlehem before the manger scene gives us a very different invitation: to discover who we are not in a story written by ourselves, but to find our story in the story of Jesus.

En la historia de Jesús, todo está conectado. El domingo, a celebrar la Santa Familia, escucharemos la historia de cómo se perdió por tres días en Jerusalén, presagiando como estará tres días en la tumba antes de resucitar. Y la madera del pesebre, nos dice la tradición, viene del mismo árbol de la madera de la Cruz. Y en los pañales cariñosos de belén, podemos ver una imagen de cuando al final de Su vida, “Tomaron el cuerpo de Jesús y lo envolvieron en lienzos con los aromas, según la costumbre de enterrar de los judíos” (Juan 19:40).

El mundo nos diría que encontrar nuestra historia en la historia de Jesús, en vez de escribirla nosotros mismos, sería una esclavitud, una falta de libertad a no poder determinar para nosotros mismos lo más importante de nuestra vida. Pero en el niño envuelto en pañales, el mismo Hijo de Dios que será envuelto en lienzos y puesto en el sepulcro, encontramos una libertad más profunda y más verdadera.

Los pañales parecen restringir al bebé, hacerlo menos libre. Pero en vez, hacen el opuesto. Lo hacen más libre para hacer lo que necesita hacer – a dormir para que tengan fuerzas para seguir creciendo y desarrollándose para llegar a ser una persona que ahora solamente podemos imaginar. Para que su libertad se desarrolla en conformidad con la verdad. Lo que parece restringir de hecho lo hace prosperar. What seems to restrict, when seen as a part of living out Jesus´s story in our own lives, actually makes us thrive.

La noche antes de que se envolvió el cuerpo de Jesús, Él aceptó lo que parecía otra limitación. Se envolvió su propio cuerpo en las apariencias de pan y vino. Vivir la historia de Jesús – que, en Él, Dios se hizo hombre, y 33 años más tarde dio su vida por nosotros y resucitó de entre muertos y ahora nos espera en las mansiones celestiales – esto no es algo meramente sentimental. Estamos invitados a descubrirnos en la historia de Jesús cuando comamos su carne y bebamos su sangre en la Eucaristía. Él ha pasado por los pañales del pesebre y los claves de la Cruz para llegar al sagrario, donde el mismo Jesús que la Virgen recostó en el pesebre nos espera todavía hoy.

So in the story of Jesus’s birth, we see not just a cute story from ages long past, but an invitation to make His story our own story as well. Our hearts are filled with excitement and love when we see Him in the manger because we know that He now shares something in common with us. This means that we have a human nature, something that every member of the human race shares in common now with Jesus. If that is the case, then who we are isn’t just something to determine for ourselves, but we can learn more about who we are from the story of Jesus. He followed the will of His Heavenly Father at all times and showed us the path to true freedom not by determining His own identity, but in self-sacrifice and self-surrender.

En el pesebre de Belén, encontramos el misterio del Dios que aceptó toda la debilidad de la condición humana, menos el pecado. Envuelto en pañales, Él nos enseña que el camino hacia la felicidad se encuentra cuando veamos a nuestras vidas como una parte de la historia de Él.


Rev. Royce V. Gregerson

Iglesia Parroquial San Juan Evangelista, Goshen

La Natividad del Señor, A.D. MMXXI

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