We don’t often give much thought to the "swaddling clothes" mentioned in this verse. Many translations refer to it as "soft cloth". Some assume that was just the clothes used for babies in those days. Funny how we just read over things in scripture, thinking something as simple as swaddling clothes to be insignificant. But NOTHING in the Word is insignificant!
Swaddling is a term used to wrap an infant tightly. Some say that it was first used to help keep an infant’s limbs to grow straight. Others said it was just to keep them warm. It has been used extensively in oriental cultures during our lifetime, and today has become very common even here in the USA. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that since it recommended babies sleep on their back, SIDS deaths have decreased 50%. The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reports that swaddling helps to keep babies from turning onto their stomachs and helps them to sleep more soundly. Swaddling is practiced almost universally now in newborn nurseries across the country.
Swaddling during the days of Jesus’ birth was done by tightly wrapping long pieces of cloth approximately 4-5 inches wide and 15-20 feet long from their shoulders to their feet. In the Middle East, travel was hard. People often encountered hardships and trials along the way. In the event of a death, it was too difficult and too hot and humid to carry a corpse along with you. So travelers commonly went prepared by tying a long, gauzelike cloth around and around their waist. That way if anyone died on the journey, the body could be prepared and buried along the way. This cloth was called "swaddling cloth".
Maybe Mary and Joseph had thought they would find a room at the inn and there would be a soft bed for Mary and her baby. Maybe they hoped that they would get there and back before he was born. At any rate, it is possible that the swaddling clothes referred to in Luke 2 were actually the "in case of death swaddling clothes’, they had carried with them on the journey.
It is also a possibility that the "stable" they stayed in was actually a cave or a tomb that had not yet been used. If so, there may have been swaddling cloth there to use to prepare the body of the one who would be lain there. In any event, Jesus was most likely "wrapped in swaddling clothes" that were also used for burial. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I think it is symbolic of the fact that Jesus was born to die.
BORN TO DIE
Born in a stable,
Died on a cross
Brought forth in poverty
Destined for the Throne
With tears of joy Mary gave birth
In grief she watched her Son die
He lived as a carpenter
Died as a criminal
Resurrected as King!
At his birth the angels sang
At his death, the earth shook
A star shone to lead men to Him
Darkness fell when He took all of our sin
His earthly father gave him nails to make a living
His Heavenly Father gave him nails to give us life
With mud he touched blind eyes and gave them sight
With His blood he touched our hearts and gave us life
When he left this earth only a few were watching
But when he returns, all eyes will behold
In the cradle, he became as we are … flesh
On the cross, he became sin
On my knees, he became my Savior
When he returns, he will come as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!