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New Bethlehem Heart
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"New Bethlehem Heart"

"She wrapped him in swaddling clothes" (Luke. 2:6)

          "Every athlete exercises discipline in every way" (1 Cor. 9:25). In Luke 2:6 we read, "She gave birth to her first born son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes". Likewise the angel foretells this to the shepherds with the words, "And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12). St. Luke does not overlook this detail in both passages-- that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Swaddling clothes are strips of cloth wrapped around a newborn infant to hold its legs and arms still. The word, swaddle, means, 'to wrap or bind; to restrain or restrict'. Jesus' first garment, his earliest attire in the world, holds him and binds him, restrains and restricts his movement. Let us, then, use this image to speak of his "swaddled" life and lifestyle as the Lamb of God. We must always keep in mind that Christmas is oriented towards Calvary.  These swaddling clothes are like lamb's wool--like fleece--which will 'bind' him to the mission of the Father: The "clothing" of New Covenant Love. Jesus is Victim Lamb from the beginning: "When he came into the world, he said…Behold, I come to do your will, O God" (Heb. 10:5, 7B).

          Immediately upon birth, Jesus begins to be formed and trained by restraint, schooled by restriction: He is 'set on the path' that will lead to the cross, the ultimate denial of self, the ultimate offering of love. He will walk the 'narrow path' of New Covenant Love--the 'narrow way of exclusive love--all of his earthly life.  At his birth, Jesus is already "dressed" for victory. For, he is dressed in the 'wardrobe' of the Father's will: Swaddled "for us men and for our salvation". How fitting a first garment this is for the Lamb who will be held 'bound' to the Father's plan perfectly in the world: The Lamb who will exercise disciplined restraint, who will be silent and open not his mouth, who will be led, and will surrender himself to death for the sake of love.

          For now, it is cloth that restricts the movement of his legs and arms. Later, it will be nails. For now, he is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Later, he will be wrapped in a burial cloth and laid in a tomb; however, because Jesus will be faithful to the Father unto death, the burial cloths will not be able to hold him bound. Christmas is about the birth of the One Lamb who is to be entirely devoted to the Father, "swaddled" by discipline, and "clothed" in perfect obedience to the Father's will. The Son of God will live "wrapped" in resolute determination to accomplish the essential work given to him by the Father. The root meaning of the word, religion, is "to bind". Jesus is the Founder of our religion, the pioneer of our faith. His life shows us what it means to be authentically religious--one who is "bound" both to God and to humanity by "cords" of selfless love: "Bound" and determined!

          It is of no coincidence that Mary is the one who wraps Jesus in swaddling clothes. Mary is both the Mother of the Church and model of the Church. Newly 'reborn' at the moment of our baptism, we are wrapped in the "swaddling clothes" of a white, baptismal garment by the Church. "Swaddled", we are meant to be kept close to Mary's heart and held near to the heart of the Church: "I drew them with human cords, with bands of love" (Hos. 11:4).  The truth is that upon my being baptized, I now belong to Another. Now, the life I live is not my own. In Baptism, I am claimed by Christ my Savior! Now I am "clothed" in Christ who always obeys the will of the Father. We must always remember that the world has been saved by Jesus' obedience to the Father. Like Jesus, we must never abandon the "swaddling clothes" of our calling. We are " harnessed for holiness", "swaddled for sanctity". Like Jesus we are to live in the world yet not be of the world:

"Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world" (1 John 2:15-16). 

          As intercessors, we are to walk in the "swaddled" attitude and interior dispositions of Jesus in the world: The disciplines of a dedicated "warrior". "For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines…For what "son" is there whom his father does not discipline?" (Heb. 12:6,7B  ). We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit and allow Him to strip off the "flailing arms and legs" of an undisciplined, unfettered spirit--the "flailing arms and legs" of a false humanity. Intercessors do not "kick against the goad" of humility, obedience, temperance, patience, or forgiveness. Rather, we submit to these "bands of love". This is a very disciplined 'walk', of interior, ironclad allegiance to God coupled with a core, commitment to humanity. Intercessors travel the highway called the holy way--the highway called "His way". 

          An intercessory lifestyle is made up of daily "swaddling choices". There are essential, willful lifestyle disciplines that help intercessors to prolong the crucified Love of Jesus in the world. We must strive to guard the thoughts in our minds: "Take every thought captive in obedience to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5); we must guard our speech: "Everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19); we must check the motives for our actions: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them" (Mt. 6:1):

          "For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love" (Gal. 5:13)  

Our calling as intercessors is a sacrificial one rooted in the missionary-servant love of Jesus, the Lamb of God: "He wore a cloak that had been dipped in blood" (Rev. 19:13), so that his Bride, the Church, might be "clothed with power from on high" (Acts 1:8).

Questions:

1)   Where in my life do I find discipline of thoughts, speech, or actions to be particularly difficult?

     2)  Where in my life am I resisting the "swaddling clothes" of submission, surrender, trust, obedience, discipline currently?

Scriptures:

Any scripture cited in the text; Gal. 5:1; Heb.12:10-11

"TWO-ZERO-ONE-SEVEN, TIME TO STORM HEAVEN"

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