The Christmas Story, or The Birth of Jesus

It all begins with a Jewish priest, Zechariah, who lived when Herod was king of Judea. Zechariah was a member of the priestly order of Abijah. His wife, Elizabeth, was from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and now, they were both very old. One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary and burn incense in the Lord’s presence. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying. Zechariah was in the sanctuary when an angel of the Lord appeared, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was overwhelmed with fear.

But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him, John. You’ll have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice with you at his birth, for he’ll be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or hard liquor, and he’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he’ll persuade many Israelites to turn to the Lord their God. He’ll be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, the prophet of old, and will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for His arrival. He’ll turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he’ll change disobedient minds to accept godly wisdom.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How do I know this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God! It was He Who sent me to bring you this good news! And now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you won’t be able to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly come true at the proper time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures that he must have seen a vision in the Temple sanctuary. He stayed at the Temple until his term of service was over, then returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months.

“How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children!”

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. They had exchanged marriage vows that was sealed with a kiss, but they weren’t allowed to be intimate until the day that Joseph called for her to come to his house. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be frightened, Mary,” Gabriel said; “for God has decided to bless you! You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name Him, Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David. And He will reign over Israel forever—His Kingdom will never end!”

“But how can I have a baby?” Mary asked. “I’m a virgin.”

Gabriel replied; “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over shadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and He’ll be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s already in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary responded, “I’m the Lord’s servant, and I’m willing to accept whatever He wants. May everything you have said come true.” His mission accomplished, Gabriel went his way.

A few days later, Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “You are blessed by God above all other women, and your Child is blessed. What an honor this is that the mother of my Lord should visit me! When you came in and greeted me, my baby jumped for joy the instant I heard your voice! You are blessed, because you believed that the Lord would do what He said.”

Mary responded; “Oh, how I praise the Lord! How I rejoice in God my Savior! For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. For He, the Mighty One is holy, and He has done great things for me. His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear Him. His mighty arm does tremendous things! How He scatters the proud and haughty ones! He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. And how He has helped His servant Israel! He hasn’t forgotten His promise to be merciful, for He promised our ancestors—Abraham and his children—to be merciful to them forever.”

Now, when it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she had a boy. The word spread quickly to her neighbors and relatives that the Lord had been very kind to her, and everyone rejoiced with her. When the baby was eight days old, all the relatives and friends came for the circumcision ceremony, but they wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father.

Protesting, Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!”

“What?” they exclaimed. “There’s no one in all your family by that name.”

Going over her head, they asked the baby’s father, communicating to him by making gestures. He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote: “His name is John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.

Then, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy: “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited His people and redeemed them. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of His servant David, just as He promised through His holy prophets long ago. Now we’ll be saved from our enemies and from all that hate us. He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering His sacred covenant with them, the covenant He gave to our ancestor Abraham. We’ve been rescued from our enemies, so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness forever. And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you’ll prepare the way for the Lord. You’ll tell His people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”

Wonder fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened, spread throughout the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “I wonder what this child will turn out to be? For the hand of the Lord is surely upon him in a special way.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth till she gave birth, then went back to her own home. But it was more than three months since the angel visited her, and she was beginning to show signs of the pregnancy. Joseph was privately told. By law, he and Mary were already husband and wife, but he’d have to procure a divorce to end it, which meant the whole town would know. Being a just man, he didn’t want her publicly disgraced, so he thought it best to have her privately put-away. Put-away means, that the husband tells the wife to leave his house, but the marriage isn’t lawfully ended. Once Joseph remarried, he’d be committing adultery. While he thought about the problem, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said; “don’t be afraid to bring Mary to your house as your wife. For the Child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

All of this happened to fulfill the Lord’s message through His prophet: “Look! The virgin, will conceive a child! She will give birth to a Son, and He will be called Emmanuel (God is with us).” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded—he brought Mary home to be his wife (but she remained a virgin until after her Son was born).

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) Everyone returned to their own towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea (a distance of ninety eight miles), David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee, taking his wife, Mary, who was in her ninth month. Bethlehem was over crowded by the time they arrived—the inn was full, but the innkeeper graciously allowed them to stay in the lower level, where the animals were kept. While they took care of business in Bethlehem, she gave birth to the Child foretold by the angel, a boy. After the baby was washed, he was rubbed with oil and salt, and wrapped in long strips of cloth called swaddling clothes. It was an old custom, usually practiced by upper class families.

It wasn’t winter yet, the nights still warm, and that night, some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, but the angel reassured them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Anointed One, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize Him: you will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!” Suddenly, the angel was joined by the armies of heaven, praising God and saying; “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about!”

They ran to Bethlehem, and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the King of kings, swaddled, lying in a manger, surrounded by animals. Then the shepherds told everyone what had happened, and what the angel had said to them about this Child. All who heard the shepherd’s story were astonished, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had seen the Child just as the angel had said.

When the baby was eight days old, He was circumcised, and named Jesus, the name given Him by the angel even before He was conceived. Then, thirty-three days after the circumcision, Mary’s purification was complete (according to the law of Moses), so they went to Jerusalem, to present their Son to the Lord. The law of the Lord says: every male that opens the womb will be called holy to the Lord. And, they offered a sacrifice for Mary, according to what was required—either a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

Now there was a man named Simeon who lived in Jerusalem. He was a righteous man and very devout. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he eagerly expected the Anointed One to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Anointed One. So when Mary and Joseph came to present Jesus to God, as Moses required, the Holy Spirit led Simeon to the Temple that day.

He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying; “Lord, now I can die in peace! As you promised me, I have seen the Savior You have given to all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and He is the glory of your people Israel!” Joseph and Mary were amazed at what was being said about Jesus. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary; “This child will be rejected by many in Israel, and it will be their undoing. But He will be the greatest joy to many others. Thus, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—yes, and a sword will also pass through your heart.”

The Word says, out of the mouths of two or three witnesses it will established, so God provided another witness. Anna, an eighty four year old widow, was also there in the Temple. She was a prophetess, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She had been widowed after only seven years of marriage, and didn’t re-marry. She never left the Temple, but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph. She began praising God, and talked about Jesus to everyone who had been waiting for the promised King to come and deliver Jerusalem.

Now, Joseph was a good provider for his family—working his carpenter trade, he soon had a proper house for his wife. When Jesus was around two years old, some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem one day at sun rise, asking, “Where is the new-born King of the Jews? We have seen His star as it arose, and we have come to worship Him.”

The reigning king, Herod, was deeply disturbed by their question, as was all of Jerusalem. A king! But he was king! He must take steps to be rid of this usurper. Herod sent a private message to the wise men, asking to see him, and craftily questioned the men, who told him of a brilliant star they have been following, only at night. He also learned the exact time they first saw the star. To placate them, he called a meeting of all the chief priests and scribes, demanding; “Where did the prophets say the Anointed One would be born?”

After searching all day, the scribes answered; “In Bethlehem, of Judea. For the prophet wrote: “‘O Bethlehem of Judah, you are not just a lowly village in Judah, for a ruler will come from you Who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Herod told the wise men; “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find Him, come back and tell me so I can go and worship Him, too!” But in his heart, he intended to kill the would-be king, to protect his own throne.

The sun was setting by this time, and once again, the star appeared in the sky. When the wise men saw the star, they were filled with joy! It guided them to Bethlehem, about five miles from Jerusalem, and stopped over the house where the Child was. They entered the house where the Child and His parents were, and they fell down before Him and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Joseph and Mary were completely nonplussed at these events. The wise men left and settled down for much needed sleep. But when it was time to leave for their home country, they went home another way, because God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

After the wise men were gone, Joseph and Mary also retired to their bed, but an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Escape to Egypt with the child and His mother!” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod will seek to kill Him.”

That night, Joseph hastily left for Egypt with the Child and His mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

Herod waited, and waited, for word from the wise men, and finally sent a man to find out what the delay was. The man told him the wise men were long gone. Herod was furious, when he discovered the wise men had made a fool of him! And worse, he had no idea where the boy king was. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem, who were two years old and under, because the wise men had told him the star first appeared to them about two years earlier. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah: “A cry of anguish is heard in Ramah…weeping and unrestrained mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted…for they are dead.” (Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was buried near Bethlehem—Genesis 35:19)

When Herod died a couple years later, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and told him, “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill Him are dead.”

So Joseph returned immediately to Israel with Jesus and His mother. But when he learned that the new ruler was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid, and wouldn’t go any further. Then, in another dream, an angel told him to go to Galilee. So they detoured around Jerusalem, and returned to Nazareth. This fulfilled what was spoken by the prophets concerning the Anointed One: “He will be called a Nazarene.” And Jesus increased in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man.

An afterword

Nazarene means, someone from the town of Nazareth. A Nazarite is someone who has made a vow to God. You can read the conditions of the Nazarite in Numbers 6:1-21. Samson was the only person made a Nazarite from the womb. If Jesus had been a Nazarite, it would’ve severely limited His ministry. Ignorance of the definition of the two words, and its similarity, is why artists often portray Jesus with waist-length or hip-length, hair. John the baptist didn’t drink wine or strong drink, but he also wasn’t a Nazarite.

The exact origins of the wise men, their identity, how many, and whether or not they’re royalty, aren’t revealed in scripture. God tells only what we need to know about those men—that they were wise to seek and worship the Son of God. We also don’t know if the journey was started before or after Jesus’ birth.

The scriptures for Jesus’ birth is found in Matthew 1:18-25, Matthew 2, Luke 1:5-80, Luke 2:1-40.

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