Saturday, December 24, 2011

Quilts….and Swaddling Clothes

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:7 (KJV)

I love quilts.  Every now and then, I come across a really great buy on an old, weathered one, and I bring it home to add to my collection.  Quilts are interesting creations…when I buy an old one, I always wonder whose hands stitched it, and how many hands it has passed through over the years.  And what hands will it fall into after I am gone and no longer have any use for it? 

Several years ago, we went to visit my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Orville when they were living in Jacksonville, FL.  When we got to the room we were to sleep in, Kevin remarked at the beauty of the quilt on the bed.  He just fell in love with it.  It was predominantly brown, with many other colors added throughout, and it was a unique pattern that my aunt told us was called Cathedral Window.  She made it by using several leftover pieces of upholstery fabric, and she told us how her fingers bled from the needle being so hard to push through the thickness of the fabric.  The quilt was truly a labor of love and of her self.

A few years later at Christmas, a surprise box came in the mail addressed to Kevin from Aunt Joyce.  Inside was the beautiful quilt she had made that he liked so much.  Needless to say, he was thrilled, and it has become something we both treasure.  Not only because it is beautiful, but because of the time, energy, and effort Aunt Joyce put into making it, and because of  her unselfishness in passing it on to someone who cherishes it so much.  Each time I look at the quilt (pictured above), I think of Aunt Joyce and how much she means to me.  We will be good stewards over her quilt, until one day we pass it on to Zachary.

When Zachary was a baby, I made him a quilt.  Not anywhere near as nice or pretty or as complicated a pattern as Aunt Joyce’s, but every stitch was stitched with all of the love my heart could hold.  I was so happy to have the fabric and ability to create something warm and comforting for our child.

At this time of year, my thoughts often turn to Mary.  I think of how I felt 11 years ago, when I was expecting Zachary, and in labor on Christmas Day.  During my pregnancy, Kevin and I spent hours turning our guest room into a nursery.  We painted, put wallpaper on the walls and a Precious Moments border at the top.  We moved all of my doll collection off the shelves that were installed over and around the window, and we began to fill up the shelves with baby items and décor.  Kevin worked hard making everything just right.  He assembled the crib, changing table, and glider rocker, and he arranged everything perfectly.  I clearly remember the first day we brought Zachary home from the hospital, and I sat rocking him in his room for the very first time.  Everything was clean and neat and comfortable. 

Mary had no such luxuries.  She had no clean, new crib; no serene baby wallpaper; and no walls to paper.  She didn’t have a new rocking chair in which to soothe her baby to sleep.  She didn’t even have a roof over her head.  No comfortable hospital bed in which to give birth.  No attending physician or midwife.  No comforting friends around to welcome the first cries of her infant Son.  She was in an unfamiliar town, alone, except for her noble Joseph, who stayed faithfully by her side.  They had traveled a far distance, not in a nice, comfortable automobile, but on the back of a donkey.  We can only imagine what they went through to get to Bethlehem. 

Mary had no soft, comforting quilt to wrap around her precious baby.  The custom in those days was to take strips of cloth and tie them together to wrap around a newborn.  Swaddling clothes, they were called.  I have wondered where Mary found the fabric to tear into strips.  There has been speculation, but we really have no concrete facts since the Bible does not say.  Perhaps she tore pieces of her own garment or some of Joseph’s.  At any rate, the best she could do was to wrap sweet Baby Jesus in crude pieces of cloth…not neatly sewn, but roughly tied together, then wrapped tightly around Him, to keep Him warm.  Then the best she could do was to place Him in a rugged manger that was otherwise used as a feeding trough for animals.  Smelly, possibly damp, and most definitely uncomfortable. 

The inn probably had much finer accommodations.  Had Joseph only been able to rent a room for the night, both Mary and Baby Jesus would have fared much better.  But, there was no room.  I wonder who came to the door of the inn to tell Joseph the inn was full.  Did he or she feel a stab of pity as the dejected twosome rode away?  Wouldn’t you have thought there could have been a small vacant spot found somewhere to make them at least somewhat comfortable? 

Through human eyes, I would have much preferred reading that a beautiful, hand-stitched, comfortable quilt softened Jesus’ entrance into this cruel world.  But in reality I read that He was wrapped in swaddling clothes.    Later in the 2nd chapter of Luke, we read “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  She had to have questions; she had to wonder what was going on because she was human, just like you…and me.  But, she trusted God’s wisdom, when she couldn’t understand His logic. 

Looking back in retrospect, we know it was all part of God’s plan.  But being a woman, at Christmas, my heart always goes out to Mary and the plight she found herself in.  She, the noble one God chose to aid in the miracle of the birth of His only begotten Son, was forced into the most meager, humbling, and more than likely puzzling, of circumstances.

God doesn’t always do things the way we think He should.  His plan is so much bigger and better than any we could come up with.  Isaiah 55:9 (KJV) says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  In my way of thinking, Jesus should have been born into the very best of circumstances.  In reality, He couldn’t have been born into much worse.  But, who am I?  God had a plan, just as He has a plan for your life and mine.

Do you find yourself in puzzling, mysterious situations that are hard to understand?  Do you wonder why God is allowing things to turn out differently than you envisioned He would?  Mary must have wondered, too…she “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  After all, the angel had told her she would give birth to God's Son, but she surely must have thought it would be in different circumstances than this.  Somehow, I believe she knew that she was an essential part of something much bigger than what she could see.  You are too, my friend.  You are an all-important part of God’s plan.  None of us will ever have the unique opportunity Mary did to make such a revered contribution, but all of us have the chance to submit to God’s purpose for our individual lives using what we have to make the best of our circumstances.  Kind of like Mary turning strips of cloth into swaddling clothes...

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