Had I been a reporter in Israel around 2000 years ago, on this week in time I might have written a story something like this:
BETHLEHEM — The decree of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, ordering a new census which will earn more taxes for the Roman Empire, is being credited with strange happenings the past few days in the small town of Bethlehem.
Joseph bar Jacob of Nazareth was one of hundreds of men forced to return to the city of his birth to be registered in the census. He was accompanied by his wife, Mary. The couple was married earlier this year, several months after Mary claims she was visited by an angel, Gabriel, who told her God had chosen her to be the virgin mother of the long-promised Messiah.
Although the trip from their home town was long and dangerous, they arrived in Bethlehem only to find there were no available rooms in the inn. Because Mary already appeared to be in the final stages of labor, the innkeeper did allow them to use the straw in an old cave behind the inn.
“I knew she was in labor, and just a young girl herself, but what else could I do? Every room in my inn was taken by travelers who had arrived early for the census. Even though I kept some of my animals there, I thought at least it would give them a little privacy,” he said.
Before the night was over, Mary delivered their Son, a healthy baby boy. Departing from family tradition, they named the baby Jesus, as they claim they were instructed to do by the angel.
At that point, the story took another strange twist.
Some shepherds who had taken their flock into the hills for better grazing showed up at the cave. As soon as they saw the Baby, they fell on their knees to worship Him.
When asked how they knew a baby had been born in that cave they all said that they had been told of the birth by a chorus of angels. “We were out there watching the sheep, minding our own business and trying to stay awake, when suddenly we were visited by an angel who told us about the birth. He was so bright that the whole hillside looked like daylight,” said the head shepherd, who asked to remain anonymous.
“We were plenty scared,” said a younger shepherd, until the angel told us to ‘fear not’.”
“Then he told us about the Baby’s birth. Before he had barely stopped talking the sky was filled with more angels than we could count, singing glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace,” said the older shepherd. “The angels must know something we don’t know, because I don’t think we’ll ever have peace and goodwill as long as the Romans are in charge,” he continued.
He said he couldn’t explain their reasoning, but after the angels left the shepherds all decided maybe it would be best if they went down into Bethlehem to try to find the Baby.
“We figured it wouldn’t take long, that it wouldn’t be too hard, because there seemed to be a bright star shining right over one of the caves,” said another of the shepherds.
“It was just like the angel told us,” the older shepherd said. “When we saw that Baby we felt so much love, peace and hope that we couldn’t help but kneel at His tiny little feet.”
After the shepherds left the stable, they began telling everyone what they had just seen. “Because we were so excited everyone thought we had been drinking too much and they didn’t believe us,” said the young shepherd. “But we knew it was real and we stayed up all night talking about it.”
Sometime later the young family had more visitors, a group of magi from far eastern countries who apparently had seen the same star the shepherds had seen. Their journey had taken them into Jerusalem, where they stopped at the palace of King Herod, thinking perhaps the Baby had been born there.
King Herod told them no baby had been born there in quite a few years. Because his astrologers seemed to have no knowledge of the star the magi said they were following, he asked them to stop back on their return trip to tell him where the baby had been born so he, too, could visit the infant and pay homage.
When the magi, including Gaspar, Melchior and Belthazar, found the family, they, too, felt the love, peace and hope the shepherds had felt. They knelt before the Child and said they had brought several special gifts — gold for the King of Kings, frankincense for the Priest of all Priests and myrrh for the Perfect Sacrifice.
When they were ready to return to their homes, they chose not to go back through Jerusalem, saying they really didn’t trust Herod.
When the Baby Jesus was eight days old, Joseph and Mary, following the holy law, took Him to the temple. While they were in the temple an old prophet named Simeon came up and asked to see the Child. He took one look at the sleeping baby and began praising God, saying, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
His excitement and enthusiasm were so contagious that an old widow who has been living in the temple since her husband died some eighty years ago, also asked to see the Baby. Her reaction was the same as Simeon’s, and she also began telling everyone that she had just seen God’s redemption in Jerusalem.
Shortly after that, the young family disappeared. Some are saying that Joseph was again visited by an angel, who told them Herod meant to harm the Child. It is rumored they may have gone to Egypt, rather than returning to their home in Nazareth.
From our home to yours, may you find new blessings in the year to come.
Thought for the week — From a little spark may burst a mighty flame.