Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived in the little town of Nazareth, among the hills of Galilee. She was going to be married to a carpenter called Joseph, who, like herself, lived in Nazareth. One day God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary with a message. Mary, when she saw and heard the angel, was a little frightened. But the angel told her he had some glad news for her. Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, was coming into the world very soon, and He was to come in the form of a baby, as Mary's little child. And Gabriel said that when He was born, Mary must call Him JESUS.
Mary had a cousin named Elizabeth, who lived more than a hundred miles away from Nazareth, and Mary longed to talk with her about all these wonderful things. So she got ready for a long journey, and went off into the hill country of Judaea to see Elizabeth.
And God had also promised to send Elizabeth a son. And soon after Mary's visit the baby was born, and all Elizabeth's friends were glad, and came to see her, and to thank God with her for His great kindness.
The little Jew babies have a name given to them when they are eight days old. And Elizabeth's son was named John.
One night, soon after Mary got back from her cousin Elizabeth's house, the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream. The angel told Joseph to marry Mary, and he told him Mary's secret about the Son of God coming to earth as her little child, and he said to Joseph, 'THOU SHALT CALL HIS NAME JESUS, FOB HE SHALL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.' When Joseph woke up, his first thought was to do what the angel had told him, and he at once took Mary to his own home as his wife.
About this time Caesar Augustus, the great Emperor at Rome, sent word to Herod that he was to take a census of the Jews. Everybody's name had to be written down and his age, and many other things about him. Every twenty years Augustus had a census taken, so that he might know how much money the Jews ought to pay him, and how many Jew soldiers he ought to have.
In Palestine, at census time, people had to go to the towns where their fathers' fathers lived a long time ago, and had to have their names put down there instead of having them put down in their own homes. Now, both Joseph and Mary belonged to the family of the great king David, who was born in Bethlehem. So Mary had to prepare for a long journey, and go with her husband to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is six miles from Jerusalem. It is on the top of a hill, and people have to climb up a steep road to get into the town.
An inn is a large house that people stay at when they are on a journey. The inns in Palestine have four walls, with a door in front, and with a great empty space for camels and horses inside. In the middle of the empty space is a fountain; and all round the walls, a little bit higher than the part where the animals are, there are a number of places like empty stone arbors. These empty places are called leewans, and they are open in front, so that everybody can see into them. Yet Mary and Joseph, after all their long journey from Nazareth, could not find even an empty leewan to lie down in.
[Illustration: The shepherd's care.]
Near that inn there was a place in which asses and camels were kept. It was perhaps a cave in the side of the hill. And because there was no room for them in the inn, Mary and Joseph had to go into that stable to sleep, and in that stable Jesus Christ was born. Mary wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in the manger in the place where the animals' food was kept.
On the hill where Bethlehem stands there are green places where shepherds feed their flocks. There are wild animals in Palestine; and all night long the shepherds of Bethlehem watched to see that no harm happened to their sheep. One night an angel of the Lord stood by them and a bright light shown round about them. The shepherds were afraid; but the angel said, 'FEAR NOT; FOR BEHOLD, I BRING YOU GOOD TIDINGS (OR NEWS) OF GREAT JOY, WHICH SHALL BE TO ALL PEOPLE. FOR UNTO YOU IS BORN THIS DAY IN THE CITY OF DAVID A SAVIOUR, WHICH is CHRIST THE LORD.' And suddenly there was seen with the angel a number of the angels of heaven. And they praised God, and said, 'GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN.'
When the light faded, and the song ended, and the angels had gone back into heaven, the shepherds climbed quickly over the hillside to Bethlehem. And there, in the stable near the inn, they found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in the manger, as the angels had said.
Jesus was the eldest son of His mother. And the eldest sons in Jewish houses, when they were forty days old, were taken to the Temple, and given to God.
So now, when Jesus was nearly six weeks old, He was brought from Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph to the Temple at Jerusalem. The mothers used to take a lamb with them, or two pigeons, as a sacrifice to God. Mary took two pigeons. She was not rich enough to buy a lamb.
A long way on the eastern side of the Jordan, there were countries where the people used to watch the sun and the moon and the stars very carefully. If they saw anything new and strange in the heavens, they thought it meant that something wonderful was going to happen. But some of them knew and had heard from the Jews about God, and about the Messiah who was coming; and they, like the Jews, were longing for Jesus.
One day these wise men saw a bright star which they had never seen before. And as they looked at it they felt sure that a great King of the Jews had been born in Judaea. So they took camels and rich presents of gold and sweet-smelling stuff -- such as people gave to kings in those days -- and they loaded their camels, and left their homes, and rode for many weeks till they came to Jerusalem. And when they got there they said, 'Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.'
When Herod heard about these wise men he was troubled. He sent for the best priests, and other clever men, and asked them where Christ would be born. And they said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judaea.' They had read that in the Bible. Then Herod said to the wise men, 'Go and search out carefully about the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship Him.'
When the wise men had heard the king, they went away to Bethlehem, and lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. And they rejoiced with great joy. And when they were come into the house (there was room in the inn now) they saw the young Child with Mary, His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him, and they gave Him their presents -- gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. But the wise men did not go back to Herod. God told them in a dream not to go. So they went home by another way instead.
After the wise men were gone, the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in his sleep, and said to him, 'Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.' That meant to kill Him. So Joseph at once got up, and took the young Child and His mother by night, and went away to Egypt.
When Herod found that the wise men did not come back, he was very angry, and he sent his soldiers to Bethlehem, and had all the baby boys killed -- all the children who were less than two years of age. And they killed all the baby boys in the places near Bethlehem as well. And the poor mothers cried, and nobody could comfort them.
Joseph and Mary stayed in Egypt, waiting for the angel to bring them word that it was time to go back again to Palestine. And one night, when Jesus was about three years old, the message came. The angel of the Lord said to Joseph in a dream, 'Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young Child's life.' Joseph got up, and took the young Child and His mother, and went into the land of Israel. But when he came there, people said to him, 'Herod is dead, but his son Archelaus is king.' And when Joseph knew that Archelaus was king, he was afraid to stay in Judaea. And God spoke to him again in a dream, and told him to go back to Galilee. So Joseph and Mary went back to Galilee, and lived in Nazareth again.