Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Christmas Story - The Birth of Christ

The old man sat down next to the fireplace and slowly opened his book. He adjusted his glasses and read to the children who had gathered around him.

The children wanted to know why we celebrate Christmas, so the old man decided that they should know.

He looked over the top of his glasses to check the door. It was as if he were about to divulge a secret. A secret that some have tried to hide.

The first page had the words, The Christmas Story

He turned the first page over and again he looked over to the door, then he tilted the book so that the light of the fireplace helped him read the old book.

He looked at the children and softly whispered, "You really want to know, so I will tell you."
He again glanced over to the door, then raised a finger to his lips to say quiet.

Then he started, "It all took place over 2000 years ago. There was a King by the name of Herod who ruled a land called Judea. Judea is now part of Israel.

God sent the Angel Gabriel to a young women who lived in the northern town of Nazareth. The girl's name was Mary and she was engaged to marry a carpenter named Joseph.

The Angel Gabriel said to Mary: 'Peace be with you! God has blessed you and is pleased with you.'

Mary was very surprised by this and wondered what the angel meant. She was scared and bewildered. After all, its not every day that an Angel visits us and actually talks to us.

The Angel said to her "Don't be afraid, God has been very kind to you. You will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to a baby boy and you will call him Jesus. He will be God's own Son and his kingdom will never end."

Mary was very afraid, but she trusted God. 'Let it happen as God chooses,' she replied to the Angel.

Gabriel also told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, who everyone thought was too old to have children, would have a baby boy whom God had chosen to prepare the way for Jesus.

The door swung open, but it was only another child who wanted to hear the story.

So the old man continued, "So Mary lived in Nazareth and was visited by an angel who told her the God's son would be born through her. Once Mary understood that this is what God wanted for her, she agreed to let it happen.

Mary then said goodbye to her family and friends and went to visit her cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. Elizabeth was very happy to see Mary.

Elizabeth knew that Mary had been chosen by God to be the mother of his Son. God's son who would be known as Jesus. An Angel had already told Zechariah that Elizabeth's baby would prepare people to welcome Jesus. He was to be called John.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned home to Nazareth.

Joseph was worried when he found out that Mary was expecting a baby before their marriage had taken place. He wondered if he should put off the wedding altogether. But then an Angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Don't be afraid to have Mary as your wife.'

The Angel explained that Mary had been chosen by God to be the mother of his Son and told Joseph that the baby would be named Jesus which means Saviour because he would save the people of the world from their sins.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel had told him to do and took Mary as his wife.

At this time, the land where Mary and Joseph lived was part of the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor Augustus wanted to have a list of all the people in the Empire, to make sure they paid their taxes. Yes, taxes was a big deal even back then and the Emperor wanted every bit that he could get.

He ordered everyone to return to the town where their families originally came from, and enter their names in a register there. It was a census.

Mary and Joseph travelled about 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, because that is where Joseph's family came from. Most people walked but some lucky people had a donkey to help carry the goods needed for the journey. Joseph and Mary travelled very slowly because Mary's baby was due to be born soon.

When they reached Bethlehem they had problems finding somewhere to stay. So many people had returned to Bethlehem to register their names in the census, that every house was full and every bed was taken in all of the Inns.

The only shelter that they could find was a stable, actually a small cave, where animals were kept.

It was in that poor place that Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God.

In those days it was the custom to wrap newborn babies tightly in a long cloth called swaddling clothes. Jesus' bed was the manger that the animals ate their hay from.

In the hills and fields outside Bethlehem, shepherds looked after their sheep through the long night. As the new day began, suddenly an Angel appeared before them and the glory of God shone around them.

The shepherds were very, very scared, but the Angel said, 'Don't be afraid. I have good news for you and everyone. Today in Bethlehem a Saviour has been born for you. You will find the baby lying in a manger.'

Then before they knew it, many more Angels appeared all around them lighting up the sky.

The shepherds heard them praising God singing, 'Glory to God in the highest, and peace to everyone on earth.'

When the Angels had gone the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem to see what has happened.'

So the shepherds went to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph. The baby Jesus, the Christ Child, was lying in a manger as they had been told.

When they saw him, they told everyone what the Angel had said and everyone who heard the story were astonished.

Then the shepherds returned to their sheep, praising God for sending his Son to be their Saviour.

When Jesus was born, another miracle took place. It was another that no one has ever been able to explain. A star was born that night.

Yes, it's true. You see, when Jesus Christ was born, a brand new star appeared in the sky. A star brighter than all others. A star never before seen - even by those Wise Men would studied such things.

It was that star that would guide the Three Wise Men to the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Yes, Three Wise Men in faraway lands saw the star and understood what it meant. They were very smart men who studied the stars and had read in very old writings. They knew that a new star would appear when a great king was born.

After seeing that star, they set out to follow it in search of the new king and bring him gifts.

The Three Wise Men followed the star towards the country of Judea, and when they got to the capital called Jerusalem they began to ask people, 'Where is the child who is born to be king of the Jews?'

Herod, the king of Judea, remember him, well he heard this and it made him very angry to think that someone might be going to take his place as king.

So what did Herod do? Well, Herod sent for the Three Wise Men to come to him. When the Three Wise Men got there, Herod lied to them and told them to go on following the star until they had found the baby king.

He said, 'When you have found him, let me know where he is, so that I can go and worship him.' But Herod did not tell them that he really wanted to kill Jesus who was considered the Messiah, the king of kings.

The Three Wise Men followed the star towards Bethlehem - exactly where it was said that the king would be born in the old writings. The star stopped and shine directly down upon the place where Jesus was.

The Three Wise Men entered the stable where they found Jesus with Mary. They bowed down and worshipped he who was Jesus - the Christ Child.

The Three Wise Men presented their gifts they had brought to Jesus. The gifts were gold, frankincense and myrrh.

You might be wondering why the Three Wise Men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus.

Well, the gift of gold to the Christ Child came from King Melchior of Arabia. His gift is said to have paid for the Holy Family's flight into Egypt later on when escaping Herod.

Gold is as valuable today as it was in Jesus Christ's time. It symbolizes immortality, divinity, purity, and the kingship of Jesus Christ.

About the frankincense?

Well, King Balthazar was one of the Three Wise Men and came from the East to find the Christ Child. He presented frankincense to the baby Jesus as a gift. By honoring Jesus in this way, Balthazar fulfilled the prophecy that gold and frankincense would be brought from the Gentiles to honor the heavenly king.

Frankincense is a sweet gum resin that is the purest of incense. When burned, it produces white smoke and a sweet smell, symbolizing the prayers and praises of the faithful as well as Christ's sacrifice and the divine name of God.

And about myrrh? Well, King Caspar was from Tarsus and one of the Three Wise Men. He gave myrrh to the baby Jesus.

Myrrh is known for its medicinal value, for its medical uses, and it was used in ancient times for anointing kings. In Hebrew, the word Christ means 'the Messiah.' In the Hebrew Bible, a Messiah is a king or High Priest traditionally anointed with Holy anointing oil. The Holy anointing oil was the myrrh that Caspar had brought to Jesus.

Myrrh is named for its bitter taste and symbolizes the Suffering Savior, the Great Physician, and Christ's human nature.

Since God warned the Three Wise Men not to go back to Herod, they returned home to their countries in the East by a different route.

When the Three Wise Men had gone, an Angel appeared to Joseph in a dream.

'Get up,' the Angel said, 'take Jesus and Mary and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for Jesus to kill him.'

So Joseph got up, took Jesus and Mary during the night and they left for Egypt where they stayed until King Herod died later on.

But on that day, on the day that Jesus was born, Herod realized that he had been tricked by the Wise Men - Herod was furious and he gave orders for his soldiers to kill all the little boys two years old and younger who were in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.

He did that to try and kill baby Jesus, all because his plan to find the location of the Christ Child from the Three Wise Men had failed.

After Herod had died, Joseph had another dream in which an Angel appeared to him. The Angel said, 'Get up, take Jesus and Mary and go back to Israel, for those who were trying kill Jesus are dead.'

So Joseph got up, and again did as the angel told him and took Jesus and Mary back to Israel.

But when Joseph heard that Herod's son was now king of Judea, he was afraid to go there because he didn't know if Herod's son would try to kill Jesus like his father wanted to do.

So instead the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus went to Galilee, and there they lived in their old town of Nazareth.

For Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. He is the one who died for the sins of the world, and who rose from the dead in triumph over sin and death.

Today, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas day. It is the day that we remember that the Messiah was born into our world to save us from our sins.

It is also a time for family and friends to get together and celebrate a time of joy and love. And that for just one day there should be peace around the world. It is suppose to be a wonderful time, a time to remember forever.

Although lots of people think about Christmas trees and Santa Claus, the real reason why we celebrate Christmas, this date, is because Jesus Christ was born into this world."

One child looked at the old man and softly said, "Grandpa, can you read it to us again?"

"Tomorrow," he said. "Now go off to bed before your mother gives me a scolding for keeping you kids up late."

Story by Tom Correa

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