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Merry Christmas, everyone!

We have a tradition in our house, a family joke if you will. I always give my husband towels for Christmas. He will quip sometimes, “I sure hope my towels are under that tree.” If he’s been very good all year, I often give him something else too, but towels are a staple.

Once for our anniversary, I managed to convince him to take us to this resort by saying, “You know honey, they have towels there. Lots and lots of towels. They come with the room.” They did too, they had towels everywhere and those plush Egyptian cotton robes.

We had a great time, it’s a place built long ago by a guy who found out he didn’t have long to live, so he went off to the middle of nowhere to retire and die in peace. Eventually he started to get bored and began to build this mansion, adding a spa and a pool, the finest tile, ornate woodwork, and in the process his health recovered. He lived another 40 years, in his own little private paradise.

I don’t know what it is about towels in this house, but they seem to go the way of silverware and socks, just vanishing into the abyss, never to be seen again. The mystery of the missing towels.

This Christmas I am thinking of towels, something I am quite grateful for and have learned to never take for granted, because they are not quite the ordinary, everyday item they appear to be. They are actually a real luxury, an item of some affluence. That probably sounds a bit funny, but the kings and queens of old did not have towels, not like we do today…..or even toilet paper for that matter. It is amazing how many luxuries and conveniences we have in the modern world.

It is Christmas and so I am reminded of swaddling cloths, of how challenging it once was to find something to wrap a newborn baby in. Cloth was not mass-produced in factories, you did not just zip out to Wal-Mart and buy some receiving blankets. Cloth was precious and somewhat valuable. We have no idea where the swaddling cloths that wrapped the baby Jesus came from.  I like to think the inn keeper’s wife found something suitable, but they could have simply been milking rags….or the cloth used to wrap lambs after they were found to be without blemish and prepared for sacrifice.

One thing we do know, babies were sometimes salted, dusted with salt and wrapped in swaddling cloths. It gives a whole new meaning to “salt of the earth.” Salt is a great purifier, a disinfectant, and it can help to prevent infection. Some people believe we salted babies to protect their newly cut umbilical cords from infection. I have a little brother who developed an infection when he was born and he spent much of his childhood in hospitals dealing with the health consequences. Without modern antibiotics and surgery he wouldn’t even be here today.

Tradition and culture however, also suggests we salted and swaddled babies to establish their paternity. A child who was salted and swaddled was a child who was claimed by his father. It used to be a great insult to call someone unswaddled, unsalted. It meant you were fatherless, a “bastard” as the less kind would say. Ezekiel 16:4 tells us, “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.”

Nothing in the bible is small or insignificant or meaningless. The simplest things are profound, deliberate, and they often have prophetic meanings. It seems as if there is nothing unusual about finding a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and yet it is a great sign, a mark of recognition and identification, a way to identify the Christ child.

Luke 2:12 says, “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

Swaddled and salted, born of a virgin, and claimed by His Father.

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