A Homily by Saint Philaret of Moscow
The significance of the infant Jesus being wrapped in swaddling bands is explained for us by one of the ancient Christian teachers. By this wrapping, Jesus foretells His own burial. Actually the swaddling bands of an infant and the shroud of the dead were originally woven by one craftsmen; the cradle and the coffin have one and the same maker. If sin had not devised the coffin and the winding sheet, then neither would there have been swaddling bands and the cradle. Just as birth pangs are the beginnings of death, so the cradle is the precursor of the coffin, and swaddling bands the first hem of the gradually developing burial shroud.
For this reason, the Son of God, Who was voluntarily wrapped in swaddling bands, foreshadows thereby the life of unremitting asceticism. Whoever you might be, if you wish to follow after Christ, you must pass through the shadow of death on the path to birth unto life eternal. Every instrument of offence must be cut off (Matt. 18:8), every self-willed movement must be restrained and cut short, every earthly desire must be bound and mortified: mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5).
You must, as if bound with swaddling bands, maintain the freedom to open your eyes only enough to gaze peacefully upon the bonds of your old man (cf. Eph.4:22), and in this way you will mortify your sight; you must guard your mouth in such a way that it solely breathes prayers. Thus it was that the faithful followers of the Lord bore about in their bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus and died daily (2 Cor. 4:10; 1 Cor. 15:31), but in that very death they obtained new life, as dying, and, behold, we live (2 Cor. 6:9). Our ascetical life is a constant sign of the path of Christ, and the coffin of the old man is truly the cradle of the new man.
Finally, this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling bands, lying in a manger. If the infancy and the swaddling bands of the God-Man are signs of His deep humility and mortification, then His manger depicts an unfathomable poverty. He had already belittled Himself before His angels by becoming man, by His being an infant and by the swaddling bands. He accepted that which belittled Him before men. He now condescends even further, and the Word which is inseparably with God (John 1:1) is numbered with the irrational beasts.
Oh, how before this sign of the Divine impoverishment, all the exaltation in mankind, all the glory of the world, is not just brought down and belittled, but is brought to nought, disappears, and is concealed in its own annihilation! And blessed is he, who reverences before the manger of the God-Man as though it were before the Throne of His Majesty. He, who falls down before it, sees it above him at such a height as though in the very heavens! Let him lose the whole world, let him lose himself in the boundless abyss of his abasement: this boundlessness is itself the boundary of communion with the boundless Divinity. According to the cry of the Psalmist, let his soul faint: it fainteth for salvation (cf. Ps. 118:81).