The original Christmas story


Secular Christmas poems and stories, like The Night Before Christmas or The Gift of the Magi, are remarkable in the way they enchant young people from generation to generation. But there is one Christmas story that never grows stale, that is fresh to all ages and places, to young and old, to men and women. It goes like this.

In days now far, far gone, Israel was surrounded on all sides by enemies, torn by violence, and there in Israel a young girl, Mary by name, pledged to a man named Joseph, heard a voice, as she thought from an angel, that told her that she would conceive and bear a son.

This child would be no ordinary child. He would be a king, people would call him the Son of the Highest and of his kingdom there would be no end. And Mary, shaken and frightened, said: Let it happen to me according to what you say.

And in those days there went out a decree from the occupying power, from mighty Caesar Augustus in Rome, that every man must return to the town of his birth to be registered.

So Mary, with Joseph, her intended husband, left the city of Nazareth and journeyed to Joseph’s birthplace which was called the city of David, Bethlehem.

And while the couple were in Bethlehem the time came for Mary’s delivery, for she was then great with child.

They searched for a place but, finding none, Mary had to give birth in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn.

In that same region there were shepherds, keeping watch over flocks of sheep in the night. Suddenly light shone around them, and they heard an unworldly voice, and they were terrified. The voice said to them: “Fear not! Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people: For you this day is born in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

And suddenly all the stars of the night sky seemed to sing together, in a way not heard since the dawn of creation, and the refrain the shepherds heard was: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill, towards men.”

Picking themselves up, the shepherds said to one another: We should go to Bethlehem and see what this strange thing is. And so off they went, and they found a stable, and there they found Mary and Joseph and, what they really sought — a baby wrapped in blankets lying in amanger. When they had seen the baby, they went back out, stopping everyone they met to relate all that had happened on this strange night. But in the stable Mary remained cuddling her child and marvelling at what had happened, pondering all it might mean in her heart.

Later, when the excitement of the birth was over, threeMagi from an eastern kingdom glimpsed a bright star in the night sky and followed it, until they came to Jerusalem where they inquired after the new-born King.

King Herod soon got wind of their presence, sensed a rival and consulted cronies and his hangers-on as to just who and where a rival king might be found. In Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was told, for this was what the ancient prophecies foretold. So Herod called in the magi and told them to go to Bethlehem, to find the child-king and then to report back “so that I too may go and worship him.”

The Magi followed the star and came to the place of the child. They dismounted, went in and there they found Mary and her child. They bowed their heads before the child and worshipped him, just as countless worshippers have gone on doing through all the succeeding centuries. And they presented the child with gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense andmyrrh.

Then, being warned in a dream to steer clear of Herod, they decided not to return to Jerusalem but went home instead by another way.

And just as the Angel had told Mary, her child was called Emmanuel; he was called that then and he is still called that today; Emmanuel means “God is with us.”

Merry Christmas!


Ian Hunter, "The original Christmas story," National Post, (Canada) December 23, 2006.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.


Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the faculty of law at the University of Western Ontario.

Copyright © 2006 National Post

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