This Shall Be a Sign
Sprinkled throughout the Old Testament are signs that point to Jesus, the Messiah. In the New Testament we see the fulfillment of these words. Some of the most astonishing words were spoken to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." (Luke 2:11-12 - NKJ) Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus the prophet Micah made two statements that pointed directly to the Savior and the places that would be impacted by His birth. "As for you, watchtower of the flock (Migdal Eder), stronghold of Daughter of Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem." (Micah 4:8) "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)
Is it not fitting that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem (Joseph's hometown) to register for the census that was being taken? As they neared Bethlehem, they would have passed Migdal Eder (The Tower of the Flock) which sat in the middle of the six miles between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. There were special sheepherders, called Levitical Shepherds, at this location. They would have come from the tribe of Levi and were chosen and trained to care for the flock of sheep that produced the sacrificial lambs for the Temple. The Tower had two levels and two purposes. Midgal Eder was initially used as a military tower to defend Bethlehem. The shepherds used the second story as a watch tower to look out for the sheep and protect them from predators and wild animals. The first story of the Tower had another purpose. Shepherds would bring the pregnant ewes into the Tower for birthing. Babies were swaddled at birth so that they did not harm themselves. Then they were laid in a manger until they calmed down.
One year-old male lambs would be herded to Jerusalem for Passover on a day called the Day of Lambs. Here the priests would inspect them and choose those without spot or blemish. During Passover, a lamb was needed for every household. Jenee Baldwin wrote in "The Dawson Creek Mirror" on December 25, 2019, that 250,000 sheep would have been needed each year to accommodate Passover. Every firstborn male lamb was marked as holy and set aside for sacrifice. When born, only the lambs born at Migdal Eder would be wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger.
The need for blood sacrifices came about in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned. Blood was required to cover sin. A covenant was made with cutting and shedding of blood for life is in the blood. The flocks at Migdal Eder were considered sacred. They were meant to atone for sin and make peace with God. The birth, life, and death of Jesus is linked with the lambs destined for the Temple. He was born among the Temple flocks, wrapped in priestly cloths after being born in a stable, and placed in a manger (a feeding trough). Prophecy was fulfilled at His birth. He was a sign from God that the "Perfect Lamb of God" came to end animal sacrifices for He was the ultimate sacrifice.
After the three-year ministry of Jesus was completed, the Lamb of God was nailed to a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. His blood was spilled while the priests would have been slaughtering the Passover lambs. Jesus was born to die and restore our covenant with God. "And this will be a sign to you," the angel said to the shepherds. The sign still speaks to us today! Jesus came to give us everlasting life. John the Baptist called it out: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) Our celebration of Christmas is intertwined with Passover. God's gift to us is one that keeps on giving. Eternal life has been imparted to us who accept and believe and receive the Sign.
Joan E. Mathias