Long ago, about 2000 years, when King Herod ruled Judea (now part of Israel), God sent the angel Gabriel to a young woman who lived in the northern town of Nazareth. The girl’s name was Mary and she was engaged to marry 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. 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.
Mary 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. She knew that Mary had been chosen by God to be the mother of his Son. 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. 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 people. 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. He ordered everyone to return to the town where their families originally came from, and enter their names in a register (or census) there. Mary and Joseph traveled a long way (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 traveled 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 come to register their names in the census, that every house was full and every bed was taken in all of the guest rooms. The only place to stay that they could find was with the animals. People often kept animals in the house, especially at night, and used them like ‘central heating’! People normally slept on a raised/upper level with the animals below to give them extra warmth.
So in the place where the animals slept, 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.
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, took Jesus and Mary and they went back to Israel. But when he heard that Herod’s son was now king of Judea, he was afraid to go there. So instead they went to Galilee, and lived in their old town of Nazareth.