Swaddling Cloths

And 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

As I look out from the warm cocoon of my office, a winter storm blankets our town in a cold white. The old juniper tree sags under the weight of the snow. Grand Avenue is empty except for an occasional traveler looking for a place to stay for the night.

The cold and the snow remind me of Christmases past. My mom and my sister and I would anxiously wait for my dad to get home from work, and then we would hop into the family Dodge van and drive to Grandma’s house in Kansas. We always arrived late at night in the snow, and Grandma kept the Christmas lights on for us.

My sister and I could hardly contain our “Christmas” excitement. We would get to spend a couple of days and nights in Grandma’s house with our cousins who we only saw a few times a year. Grandma Pruitt always had candy and popcorn that we could eat all day long. And her tree draped in shiny tinsel and ornaments from around the world was a remarkable sight.

All the grandkids and a few stray aunts and uncles would descend on the tree and pick through the presents looking for the ones with our names on them. Grandma would admonish us, “Don’t look. Just wait until Christmas morning.” No one minded her instructions.

My Aunt Kathy liked to hold a present up and shake it and Grandma would say, “You’re going to break your present.” “Oh Mom, you always say that.”

As grandchildren, we liked to find our presents and put them in a pile from biggest to smallest or we would put the present we were most curious about on top of the pile. Grandma Pruitt would say in a very loud voice, “Stop! Put your presents back under the tree. We are going to open our presents one at a time on Christmas morning. That is final.”

By the time Christmas Day arrived, we could hardly contain ourselves. Finally, we would get to open our presents. Grandma’s rule was that we (the grandkids) had to wait for every adult to get out of bed, eat breakfast, drink a cup of coffee, and then the whole family had to sit around the tree.

One person got to be Santa Claus and hand out one present at a time. The waiting was agonizing. Just when we thought we were going to open the first present, Grandma would say, “Let’s not forget what Christmas is about. Who wants to read the Christmas story?”

“Grandma, let’s open our presents!” “Not yet. We need to read the Christmas story first. Who wants to read it?”

I volunteered and Grandma handed me her worn King James Bible opened to Luke chapter 2. I read, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from… How do you say this name Grandma?” “Caesar Augustus,” Grandma said. “Are they teaching you how to read at school, Craig?”

“Yes, Grandma.” I continued to read, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in… How do you say this word Grandma?” “Are you sure they’re teaching you to read Craig?” Grandma asked again. Then my mom said to Grandma, “Mom, you never read to me when I was a kid.”

“Suzanne, I did read to you. Every night,” Grandma said. “Can we open our presents, Grandma?” my cousins asked. “How do you say this word, Grandma?”

“Swaddling. Swaddling cloths,” Grandma said. I loved that word. It sounded soft and there was movement in it. I had no idea what it meant.

The dictionary says, “Bands or strips of linen or other cloth wrapped around a newborn infant. Richard Rohr adds that in iconography Mary wraps Jesus in swaddling cloth and when she dies Christ cradles his mother in a burial sheet, reminiscent of how she once held him as a newborn swaddled in swaddling clothes.

In the Christmas story and in our lives don’t we live a full circle? Of course, as a child, I did not think about any of this.

I finished reading, “Mary laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” “How could that mean innkeeper turn Mary and Joseph away?” I thought as a little kid.

My cousins and I moaned, “Now, can we open our presents?”

Ronald Rolheiser writes, “There is ‘no room’ in the inn. There is no place in our busy lives for a messiah to be born, for Christmas to happen.” We have important places to go and things to do.

Thomas Merton comments, “Into this world there is absolutely no room for Him at all. Christ has come uninvited. His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied status as persons, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world.”

“Grandma, let us open our presents!” the grandkids yelled. Grandma said, “Let us pray and give thanks first.”

This advent season as we prepare for Christmas Day, may we wrap one another in swaddling cloths and may we have room for the birth of Christ’s love, joy, and peace in our lives and in our world. Amen.

Blessings and peace,