Why Jesus Can Understand Our Earthly Chains

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E. B. White once lamented, “To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every year.”

I wouldn’t want to argue with the beloved author of Charlotte’s Web. Yet I have an affection for Christmas wrapping precisely because it helped me perceive Jesus through a fresh lens.

Several years ago, I decided to write a daily Christmas post on our church blog during the month of December. Saying something fresh about the Nativity every single day had me reaching far and wide for ideas. In my grasping, for one entry I decided to tackle the theology of Christmas wrapping. I vaguely recalled that some cultures use cloth instead of paper to wrap gifts, which sounded intriguing.

So I dug in. That’s when I first learned about the ancient Japanese art of furoshiki. Feudal lords needed a practical way to bundle their belongings while using the shogun bathhouse, and they displayed their family crests on the outer cloth to identify whose was whose.

Over the centuries, people adapted furoshiki into a beautiful means of presenting gifts. The cloth is folded and tied in deliberate, creative ways, inviting the recipient to pause and appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the packaging before opening it.

What’s more, unlike paper, the material can then be reused over and over again, which has made furoshiki a popular, eco-friendly alternative. When Yuriko Koike was the Japanese Minister of the Environment, she praised the benefits of furoshiki, saying, “It’s a shame for something to go to waste without having made use of its potential in full.”

I realized that Jesus came to us in furoshiki, wrapped in cloths. And while the strips of swaddling served their original purpose long ago, God continues to reuse those small pieces of cloth over and over again.

‘This Will Be a Sign’

The concept took a personal turn a few years later. It was the third Sunday in December, deep into the Advent season. At the close of the year, I was running on fumes, doing my best to muster up ideas for yet another Christmas sermon. But truth be told, after 15 years of preaching Christmas-themed messages, I felt nothing but thin, flat, and exhausted.

Part of the fatigue was due to internal battles. A few years prior to this, I had hit a mental and emotional wall that culminated with a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The label carries all kinds of preconceived notions and gets applied to a broad range of symptoms. But at the root of things, being told I had OCD simply underscored the reality that I was filled with anxiety.

OCD is sometimes referred to as “brain lock,” and that seems an apt description. My mind can get stuck in an endless loop around thoughts and fears that for most people would be easy to dismiss. And the energy required to manage my headspace left me drained.

I felt boxed in mentally, as if I were bound in one place and the world had closed in on me. I couldn’t express myself fully or freely. The tension and tightness I carried in my body reflected the constriction in my mind. The struggle was ongoing and at times immobilizing.

Thankfully, I was not alone in it. I had a wealth of incredible support, and I could function as needed. But I was suffering, exhausted, and stuck.

In my fatigue, I didn’t have a clue where to go for this particular sermon, what thread to follow. The only scrap of Scripture that had lodged itself in my brain was the angel’s line to the shepherds: “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

Wrapped in cloths. That didn’t seem a particularly fruitful starting point. I could see why the sign mattered to the shepherds: That was how they would know they’d found the right baby. But it hardly seemed like a clue to help a congregation, or me, navigate life.

In fact, I had come to the theological conclusion that signs in general were not worthy of pursuit. After all, hadn’t Jesus criticized the crowds for wanting signs? Don’t signs lead to a misguided fascination with miracles and the inexplicable?

Nevertheless, I began to think about the rest of the angel’s message, the words he had spoken just before mentioning the sign. He said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10, emphasis mine). The good news, by his account, was for everyone. Could that good news include the sign he shared?

More specifically, was there a sign in there for me?

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Jeff Peabody