The Christmas Story
This story is compiled from the NIV bible, the Picture Bible, and Fontanini nativity stories. By no means is this work my own. I compiled this to put as many of the Fontanini stories together as possible, but to do so, I needed the actual Bible story as a backbone. The NIV was used because it is written like an actual story, without all the thee's and thou's.
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It is written in Isaiah the prophet:
"I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare the way" --
"a voice of one calling in the desert,
`Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.'"
Mark 1:1-3 (NIV)
Chapter One - The Messages
In the time of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah. Both he and his wife were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. They had no children, and were well along in years.
One day, Zechariah was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord to burn incense. While he was in there, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the alter. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear.
"Do not be afraid Zechariah," the angel said. "Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name of John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or any other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. He will bring many of the people of Israel back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
"I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now, you will be silent until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time." With that, Gabriel went away, back to Heaven.
Meanwhile, the people outside were waiting and wondering why Zechariah stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They then realized that he saw a vision in the temple.
Zechariah returned home to his wife. She met him at the door.
"Zechariah! What is wrong? Why don't you speak to me?" Elizabeth asked. Zechariah picked up a tablet and wrote his answer for her to read.
"Let's see," Elizabeth said. "`While I was praying in the Holy Place, an angel spoke to me. He told me that we would have a son. His name will be John, and he will prepare our people for the deliverer from God.' A son! And he will prepare the way for God's chosen one! But why, Zechariah, do you write this instead of tell me?"
Zechariah grabbed another tablet and wrote the answer.
"You can't speak because you doubted the angel's message?" Elizabeth asked. Zechariah nodded.
For the next five months, Elizabeth remained in seclusion. "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people."
Every once in a while, a miracle takes place in Heaven: twin angels are born and the whole universe sings with thanksgiving. Two such angels came into the world on a winter day many years ago. They were beautiful golden-haired girls with different personalities. One, vivacious and high-spirited, loved to dart about the clouds, bringing laughter to the other angels. The other, timid and radiant, preferred to sit thinking sweet thoughts as she strung garlands of stars into necklaces.
As was bound to happen, the high-sprited angel made on too many wrong turns as she sprinted from cloud to cloud. She lost her way and could not find her twin. She flew around the Milky Way searching for her sister. She asked all the angels if they had seen her, but none had.
Settling on a well-populated cloud, the angel was never the same. Part of her heart had been taken away. Thinking she might feel less lonely, she tried stringing stars, but to no avail. Her strands lacked the patience and diligence strung into her twin's garland.
It came to pass that Heaven was preparing for a miraculous occasion: God sending a Savior to the world. Gabriel, a very wise Archangel, would deliver to news to the virgin whom God had selected to carry the Holy Child. His was a very important assignment and all of Heaven was on hand to wish him well as he left.
"Archangel Gabriel," the angel asked, "if you see my twin sister on your journey to earth, would you tell her I miss her and feel as though a part of me is missing?"
Gabriel looked at her with great compassion. "Do not despair, young one. God tests all of us to ensure we learn patience and faith. Listen to your heart and you will find your twin."
The angel took Gabriel's advice. She helped other angels enjoy God's music by learning to play a golden trumpet. Her life became one of faith and direction.
Among the the many members of the royal line of Israel -- and indeed, a direct descendant of the great King David -- was a simple and virtuous girl named Mary. Mary was raised within the close confines of her home, learning all of the tasks other young girls mastered as they prepared to become wives and mothers.
Mary had yet to become fourteen when she became betrothed to Joseph the carpenter. Before the two were married, a miraculous occurrence took place that was to change the direction of their lives.
About six months after Zechariah had been told of his son, God sent Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to Mary. Gabriel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was troubled at his words, and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." Gabriel said. "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end."
"How can this be?" Mary asked. "I am still a virgin."
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even your cousin Elizabeth is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary replied. "May it be to me as you have said it."
Gabriel left, but did not leave Mary alone, for unbeknownst to Mary, a nameless angel had the task to watch over Mary for all of her days.
Mary told Joseph of Gabriel's message. Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her in public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Joseph became a tender and loving husband, comforting her through her pregnancy and watching in wonder as the child grew inside her.
Mary got ready and hurried to Elizabeth's home. She had remembered what the angel said about Elizabeth being with child as well.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, she exclaimed in a loud voice, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before returning home. Shortly after Mary left, Elizabeth gave birth to her son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy, and they shared her joy.
About a week after the child was born, it was time to circumcise him. The neighbors and the relatives wanted to name him after his father, Zechariah, but Elizabeth announced, "His name is John."
The relatives started to protest, saying "There is no one among your relatives who has the name of John." Then they turned to Zechariah, who picked up a tablet and wrote something. He handed it to one of the relatives. The relative read it, "His name is John." Immediately after that, Zechariah's tongue was loosened, and he was able to speak for the first time since the angel Gabriel gave him the message telling him of a son. The first thing he did was praise God.
Chapter Two - The Journey
As winter approached, all of Heaven knew the time was near for the Savior's birth. Those who could sing practiced sacred songs. Those who could play music rehearsed with much fervor. Preparations for the winter concert were in progress, taking the efforts of thousands. Special robes sprinkled with stardust were fashioned of white. Wings were kept polished to glisten even in the dark blue sky.
One young angel watched the excitement from afar with longing in her heart. She wanted to join the chorus, for her heart was filled with love for God and she knew that singing brought Him joy. But try as she might, the little angel couldn't carry a tune, no matter how hard she practiced. So she did what she could to help the other angels, tidying halos and smoothing out robes so they twinkled like a galaxy of stars.
About the time Mary's term was ending, the emperor of Rome, Augustus Caesar, issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. All must return to their ancestral homes. For Mary and Joseph, this meant that they must travel to the city of Bethlehem. Joseph was more distressed about this than Mary. Mary comforted him as he set about finding transportation. The only animal Joseph could afford was a little donkey. When he got it home, he helped Mary up and they set off for Bethlehem. Mary's guardian angel then realized that part of her delicate mission would include overseeing the difficult journey to the City of David.
Helping Mary's own guardian angel would be a small group of angels given a special assignment by God. They were to watch over the couple on their journey to Bethlehem. These angels were fairly new, and still learning the "angel ways". But they took their jobs very seriously. Guarding the young couple over rugged terrain at the beginning of a cold winter, the angels did what they could to prepare the way.
The journey continued. Towns came and went as the couple pressed onward accompanied by the watchful angels. When Mary's wrap was pulled loose by a relentless wind, her guardian angel came to her, tucking it around her body. There were two to keep warm, the angel reminded herself.
Chapter Three - The Birth of a Savior
Mordecai had never been a happy child, and as he grew to adulthood, his personality grew more and more cantankerous. People suspected that his mother's early death upset him so severely that he decided never, ever to smile.
To avoid people, Mordecai found work at a Bethlehem village gate as night watchman. A lantern and a supply of oil were all the company he needed. He spent his nights yelling "Who's there?" from sundown to sunup.
All kinds of people came out of the night and Mordecai saw them all. The empty faces. The silent wanderers. Leaning on his crooked walking stick, he did his lonely job.
On a particularly chilly night just past the winter solstice, Mordecai's supper was interrupted by the sound of approaching travelers. He looked up to see a little donkey laboring up to the gate bearing a tired but beautiful young woman. Leading the beast was a decidedly older, bearded man, obviously weary from miles of walking.
Challenging their entry with his threatening stance, Mordecai leaned heavily on his rugged stick and lifted the lantern. Light spilled over the strangers.
"Shalom. We seek an inn, my friend," the traveler asked, letting go of the rope brittle. "We have traveled far and my wife needs rest . . . and soon!" he added urgently.
Mordecai moved closer to the young woman. Despite her loose garments, he could see that she was expecting a child very shortly.
The old man began to bark out his standard directions, but for reasons even he did not fathom, he stopped. Instead, his gaze remained fixed upon the woman. She seemed to glow with a shimmering aura of light, all her own.
"We are so grateful for your assistance," she said to Mordecai, smiling a smile that touched his heart. Her hand reached out from blue wrap she wore and rested lightly on his shoulder.
The gatekeeper was transfixed. He could not lower his lamp . . . nor could he speak for what seemed like an eternity. Her smile continued to radiate until the little man felt his heart swell with warmth . . . as warm as the glowing lantern held aloft in his hand.
"Please, my lady, let me help you," Mordecai said, picking up the dropped tether from the ground. "I cannot stay away from here too long, but I will walk with you as far as the temple and point the way to the inn."
With that, Mordecai smiled a smile of the angels. He led the couple silently towards the inn. And when he returned to his gate, he was no longer the same man.
The night was cooler than usual, so David put on his cloak before igniting the lamp he used to check the animals in the stable behind the inn. A slight wind blew under the front door and sitting mats rustled a bit at the inn's entrance. What was there about the night that seemed so strange?
David's job had no real definition. He tended the animals and sometimes helped the cook. An d often he welcomed guests when no one else was available. For a young man, he had been most eager to learn all about the running of the inn, owned by his favorite uncle, Thaddeus.
On this particular night, the inn was filled to capacity with travelers, most venturing to Bethlehem to participate in the census taking. Men and women and children seemed to be everywhere, and the cook had even hired assistants to help get bread baked and soup cooked so guests wouldn't grumble.
David was very relieved to get out of the noise to the calm of the stable. He took his lantern and made his way through the straw slowly, watching the eerie shadows as they played around the huge room. In the dark, David could see the cows moving lazily against the straw and the donkeys settled into one corner. Even the sheep formed their own cozy circle.
For no reason that he could think of, David decided to clear the area at the center of the barn. He used his lantern to light hanging lamp wicks and then swept back the space with a sense of purpose he could not identify.
The animals viewed him with no alarm, for they knew David well. He finished the task and then brought fresh water for them. Extinguishing the wicks, David left the barn carrying the single lantern.
Thaddeus treasured his father's heritage: a busy Bethlehem inn. He and his wife, Elisabeth, were gracious hosts with the help of their son, Jacob, and their nephew, David. The youngsters were true blessings while the Roman census was taking place. Soon after the decree was issued, sojourners filled Bethlehem. Those without relatives camped on the cold ground or stayed at the inn. On this dark night, Thaddeus opened his door to find Mary and Joseph in desperate need of a room.
"I'm sorry," Thaddeus said, "but we have no vacancies." He deliberated for a moment. Finally he said, "However, we do have a stable out back that you can use."
Joseph thanked him as though it were the finest room in the inn. Thaddeus invited them in, so he could record their occupancy.
Just then, David walked in and saw the couple talking to his uncle. Thaddeus saw him immediately.
"David! We have guests in need of a shelter for the night. Although we have no rooms, I told them they might use the stable." He turned to Joseph, looking apologetic, David noticed. "Again, I am sorry that I cannot do more for you. We are filled day and night these days."
"You've done plenty. We thank you for your hospitality in any case," Joseph said.
"David," Thaddeus asked, "will you take them to the stable?"
"Gladly, uncle," David answered, opening the door and pointing the way with his lantern.
About that same time, up in Heaven, the winter concert had ended. The angels were weary from singing so loudly. They could barely fly and didn't know what to do when this important message was heralded by the archangels: Angel choristers were needed to go to Earth at midnight, for a miraculous birth was about to take place in Bethlehem.
What a quandary! Most of the angels were too weary to think about singing. Not so for the one little angel who could only help the angel chorus. She wanted to add to this special occasion. She prayed and prayed for an answer, and quickly realized that her gift of song to God was one that could not be held back.
Off she went to a private cloud, fluffing her robe and filled her head with every sweet thought she'd ever had. Then she opened her mouth and out came the most beautiful notes ever heard! Could they really be coming from her, she wondered? She sang again and realized that the songs came directly from her heart.
At midnight, God called out to the little angel. She went to the appointed cloud and instantly found herself dressed in a wonderful robe of shimmering blue. A blue sash was wrapped about her waist and a golden band tied her hair. Ready at last, the little angel flew with great speed toward Earth, landing beside a tiny stable. "Sing your song," a familiar voice told her, as a reassuring tap on her wings drove her forward. "You have been chosen to honor our new Lord."
Meanwhile, the group of angels had been searching the city for lodging for the Holy Family, but failed. They returned to find Mary and Joseph in the stable.
The guardian's heart was sad. How could the Savior be born in this place? But before she could begin to ponder this new dilemma, darkness filled the room. Not only would the Child be born in this stable, but no shining light would welcome into the world, the angel thought.
When the Child was born, Mary wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.
She wondered whether Gabriel would think her as a failure, but quickly dismissed the idea as a light shone brightly from the trough Mary and Joseph had chosen for the Child's first cradle. Despite the circumstances of His birth, the Infant looked perfect. The angel noticed a little angel beside him, singing. She looked like the one that helped the angel chorus. Then, the guardian angel looked at Mary and was filled with peace. For the angel knew that Jesus' birth in this little stable was determined by God since the beginning of time. And she knew she had done her job well.
Chapter Four - The Shepherds
Since it was in a stable, Jesus' birth was witnessed by a handful of animals. One of them was a very special donkey. He looked just like the other donkeys. Long, brown ears, sincere, chocolate eyes and a sway back. However, this donkey was different. This donkey was born with a vision of the future that included a brotherhood of man and animals.
Because philosophy was an activity that was supposed to be reserved for man, this donkey had a difficult time of it. To his masters, it appeared that the donkey didn't want to work. But in reality, he would simply stop to ponder an unkind word or deed and to wonder why people and animals didn't treat each other with love and respect.
Most donkeys didn't concern themselves with such matters, so it wasn't long before other animals and some owners were anxious to avoid him. He was puzzled. Couldn't everyone sense that his thoughts were of lofty images and new philosophies . . . theories of how man and animal could work together for a better world? He brayed in his very best voice, but the animals just laughed.
By winter, the donkey had come to live in the stable behind Thaddeus's stable. When the other animals in the stable wouldn't socialize with him, he spent his time in solitude. Then, earlier on this night, he was awakened by strangers moving in the stable. All of the animals began to buzz with excitement, but curiosity turned to alarm when the only light in the stable disappeared.
When the lantern was re-lit, strange sounds came from the corner. All of the donkey's stablemates moved toward the corner where a great light radiated from its center. The donkey wanted very much to see what had caused the excitement . . . but his heart was filled with sadness. It seemed that once again, no one wanted to share the moment with him.
Just as he started to put his head down onto the straw, he heard music coming from the corner. There were beautiful words about how all of God's creatures must love and honor one another. Perhaps he was mistaken, but it seemed that the words came from the stable's trough, now the resting place of a little Baby!
All of the animals: the ox, the sheep . . . even the birds, came to the donkey and invited him over to the crib, where voices of angels continued to sing of peace and love among all of God's creatures. And as if he were the guest of honor at a banquet, so the little donkey was escorted across the stable by his newfound friends . . . all of whom had finally come to understand their brother's vision.
Thaddeus was tossing and turning in bed. Sleep came fitfully. A gentle man, he agonized when guests could not be properly losged. Despite little sleep, he rose at dawn to bid his guests farewell. To his surprise, they milled around angrily.
"Have I offened you?" Thaddeus asked, confused.
Eyes lowered, voices muttered. At last, one man pointed to the stable, "What kind of man refuses lodgings to a couple in need?"
Thaddeus scratched his head, recalling the night before. Refuse them? He had welcomed them! He ran to his stable. Shocked, he saw only his animals. Stumbling to the temple, he fell to his knees. "My Lord, have I grown mad? Did a couple not come last night . . . was the wife not with child? I would never have turned them away!" He prayed fervently, falling exhausted to the ground. When he awoke, he found himself beside Elisabeth. Had this all been a dream? Thaddeus jumped to his feet, donned his striped tunic and sash. Gold keys dangling, he ran to the barn.
The couple rested quietly. Thaddeus felt his heart fill with joy as he cautiously approached. Light radiated from the woman's arms. When Joseph beckoned, Thaddeus whispered, "I dreamed I turned you away last night!" Joseph shook his head, embracing him. "God led us here. He knew you would care for us." He urged Thaddeus forward so he might see Jesus in Mary's arms, thanking him over and over.
In that moment, Thaddeus recalled the promise he had made to his father the day he took his place: "I will never turn away a needy stranger as long as I am an innkeeper." On that day, Thaddeus renewed his pledge in the name of the Newborn King.
"You should come into the inn tomorrow night," Thaddeus said, after he pulled himself together. "We will have singing by the shepherd choir."
"The shepherd choir?" Joseph asked.
"Yes. In fact, their story is quite interesting. Would you care to hear it?"
"If you wish to tell it, we wish to hear it," Joseph replied.
"It started only a couple of weeks ago," Thaddeus began. "The sons of two families met and became friends. One was Enoch, the other was Eban. They shared stories, played games, and sang songs.
"I heard them singing one day, and noticed how their voices blended wonderfully together. I asked their parents if they could sing for customers that were dining at the inn. There was no objection, and the following night, delighted patrons enjoyed their melodious voices.
"The next day, another, younger child and his parents came to stay at the inn. His name is Elias. He begged his father to join Enoch and Eban, and soon joined them. His voice was a perfect blend.
"Last night, while they were performing, a thought entered my mind. The three voices melded so well together like brothers. I asked each of the parents if the boys had met before, and they said no. However, each of the boys had been adopted.
"From what I gathered, all three boys were the sons of a man called Avron. When Dinah gave birth to her last child, which must have been Elias, she died. Avron did not want to go on after her death and was too devastated to take the advice of friends that he take a new wife to care for them."
"How awful," Mary said.
"The three boys were a reminder of his loss. He had no family to care for them, so he gave them to childless couples. Avron told the new parents he had no wish to see them again," Thaddeus said.
"That is sad," Joseph said, "but at least the three boys were united again."
"Yes," Thaddeus said. "By the way, are you coming?"
"If we are still here," Joseph said. "We are unsure of what we will do after tonight."
"Ah, yes," Thaddeus agreed. "Well, I must return to the inn, and get some sleep, or I won't be a good host in the morning."
Above the stable, a star shone bright, alerting not only the citizens of Bethlehem that something special had taken place, but it told the whole world as well.
In three different kingdoms, three different kings saw the star. They knew it meant that the Savior had been born. As soon as they could, they set out to find Him.
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