Question: "What does it mean that baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes?"
Answer: Swaddling clothes are cloths and bands used in the practice of swaddling, or essentially “wrapping” an infant tightly in cloth. The idea behind swaddling is that it helps the baby transition from the womb (a very snug place) to the outside world. Swaddling clothes are still used today, but with some modifications. In general, swaddling has been proved to help infants sleep better, to prevent them from scratching themselves, and to reduce the risk of SIDS. In ancient times, like today, a swaddled infant was safe if wrapped and watched properly. Many cultures still practice swaddling today.
The biblical passage that refers to swaddling clothes is Luke 2: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, ESV). We can assume from the fact that she swaddled the baby Jesus that Mary was an attentive and loving mother. The angel who spoke to the shepherds on the hillside mentions swaddling clothes as part of the sign to the shepherds that they had found the Messiah (Luke 2:12).
There are some interesting theories about Luke’s detail of Jesus’ swaddling clothes. Some have postulated that the swaddling clothes were a foreshadowing—a prophetic reference—of Jesus’ burial cloths. The Greek word sparganoo is the root word used in the phrase “swaddling clothes,” and it means “to clothe in strips of cloth.” But this word sparganoo is never used in the New Testament to refer to burial cloth. In the descriptions in the Gospels of Jesus’ burial, we see variations on the phrase “wrapped in linen cloth,” and different Greek words are used for the binding. The swaddling clothes could prefigure Jesus’ burial (the Magis’ gift of myrrh in Matthew 2:11 is a clearer bit of foreshadowing), but the link can’t be proved linguistically.
When the Son of God came into our world, He was entrusted to responsible, loving parents who sought to meet His every need. Baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes according to the custom of the day, an action that showed the tender care and affection of His mother.