The Real Story of Christmas, Part 3

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“Are we ever going to get to Jesus being born, and the presents?” Ginny was getting impatient again.

“We’re just about to, dear, if Mark will let me tell the story.” His endless interruptions (like in Part 2) had held the story back, so only John the Baptist had yet been born. “Here we go!”

Did you miss Part 1 or Part 2?

While Cyrenius was governor of Syria, Caesar sent out a decree that everybody should be taxed. So everyone had to travel to his home city. Joseph packed up his very pregnant wife, Mary, and traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. While they were in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth. She wrapped her baby in swaddling cloths, as was the custom at the time, and put him in a manger (a food trough for cattle), because there was no room at the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

“Was Joseph rich, Shirlee?” asked John.

“He was a carpenter, John. I wouldn’t think so.”

“Then how would he be able to afford to stay at an inn? Only people with money did that, right? Wouldn’t they have been out camping somewhere instead?”

“I suppose so, John, but given that Mary was about to give birth . . . Maybe he saved up money for the inn for her comfort.”

There were shepherds outside Bethlehem, watching their flocks that night. A bright light shone around them, and an angel appeared. He told them not to be afraid, but that a Savior was born in Bethlehem, Christ the Lord. And then a great group of angels appeared, singing songs. So, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and found Mary, and Joseph, and Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths (which was the custom at the time) and lying in a manger, just as the angel had said. So they went out and told everybody they knew about what they saw. (Luke 2:8-17)

“Angels, or aliens,” wondered Mark. “Sure sounds like aliens.”

“There’s no such thing as UFOs, Mark, now stop with that silliness!” Shirlee turned back to the Bible.

Ginny waved her hand. “But Shirlee, what about Joseph?”

“What about him?”

“He hadn’t been with her yet, but she was pregnant, right? So why did he marry her in the first place?”

“Fornication!” cried Tom. “Harlotry!”

Ginny hushed Tom.

“I did miss that part, didn’t I? It’s in Matthew 1. I’m sorry!”

Before the wedding, Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Ghost. Being a kind man, he thought he should put her away quietly, rather than shaming her publicly and having her stoned to death, as was the custom at the time (and the Law, per Deuteronomy 22:13-22). But as he considered disobeying God’s Law, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream and told him that the child she bore was of the Lord, and that he should marry her after all.

The angel told Joseph that Mary would have a son, and Joseph should call him Jesus, and that he would save people from their sins. This would fulfill the prophecy foretelling the birth of a Savior from a virgin. (Matthew 1:18-25)

“Again with things happening in fulfillment of a prophecy,” complained Mark. “Another ‘miracle’ in this family of miracles, where all they had to do is claim Mary to be a virgin and poof, another prophecy is fulfilled!”

“That’s enough, Mark! Quit accusing Mary, Elisabeth, Zecharias, and Joseph of being liars! You have no evidence of that claim at all,” Shirlee snarled. “Do you need a time out?” She gestured toward the padlocked closet.

“Squeek squeek,” taunted John, knowing how afraid Mark was of the mouse, or whatever it was, in the closet. It had to be a mouse, what else could it be?

Mark sat back in his chair and stared at his desk.

“Now we can finally get to Ginny’s favorite part, the presents!” Shirlee turned back to her Bible.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked around to learn where the King of the Jews had been born. They had seen his star, and were coming to worship him.

King Herod heard about their inquiries, which he found disturbing. He gathered together all the chief priests and scribes and asked them where the Christ was supposed to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem, according to the prophecy.”

Herod then quietly got together with the wise men and asked when the star had appeared. (About two years earlier, Matthew 2:16) He then sent them on to Bethlehem, and asked them to tell him where the child was after they found him. (Matthew 2:1-8)

“I know when the star appeared,” said Mark, opening his notebook. “This paper tells all about it.”

“I’ll take that,” snapped Shirlee, snatching the paper away and reading it. “This is just a web address! Is this some sort of joke?”

Mark’s paper read:

“No, Shirlee, of course not.” Mark smiled innocently. “Read it later, if you like.”

Shirlee huffed and stuck the paper in her bag, returning to the Bible.

The wise men traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, following the star all the way. Finally, it stood still above the house where Jesus was. They worshiped him, and gave him gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Then, since God had warned them in a dream, they went home by a different way instead of returning to Herod. (Matthew 2:9-12)

“So this star was leading them, for two years,” John began, “And could actually stop directly above a single house, but they had to stop in Jerusalem for directions?”

“That doesn’t make sense,” agreed Ginny.

“Still sounds like aliens to me,” added Mark. “A spaceship could lead people with a light, and hover over a house. Stars can’t do that.”

“Anything is possible with God, Mark! And perhaps God wanted Herod to be well aware of what was happening,” said Shirlee. “Wait until you see what Herod does!” Shirlee turned back to the Bible.

“But wait, Shirlee,” said Ginny, “It says they’re in a house now. How long after the birth did the Three Kings arrive?”

“Three kings?” Mark interrupted. “It doesn’t say anything like that.”

“But the song says, ‘We three kings of Orient are’, Mark, don’t you know anything?” Ginny was indignant.

“The Bible doesn’t say how many, and it doesn’t say they were kings. Right, Shirlee?”

Shirlee scanned the text. “You’re right on this one, Mark. It doesn’t say how many wise men, and it doesn’t refer to them as kings. Now, if we may get back on topic . . . Ginny, Bethlehem is only about 5 miles (or 8 km) from Jerusalem, so they could have gotten there the same night after they visited with Herod. So you see, after traveling two years, they were very close before they started asking questions. It may have been daytime when they got to Jerusalem, so they couldn’t see the star. The Bible doesn’t say in Matthew, and they’re not mentioned in Luke.”

“So what does Luke say?” Mark was gearing up for something again. Shirlee could tell. But she turned back to her Bible.

When the eight days after Jesus’ birth had passed, they circumcised the baby and officially named him Jesus. Then, as was the custom, and the Law, they took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice of two birds before God.

At the temple, they were met by a man named Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Ghost that he would live long enough to see the Savior. When they brought Jesus in, he came over, lifted the child, and blessed God, announcing that he had seen the salvation of the Lord, and prophesying to Mary.

An elderly woman and prophetess, Anna, who was 84 years old, also thanked the Lord.

Then the family returned to Nazareth, and the family went to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:21-41)

“Continuity! Continuity!” yelled Tom.

“Oh, what now?” moaned Shirlee. “Ginny, quiet your cousin.”

As Ginny tended to Tom, Mark realized what had upset Tom. “Shirlee, they went to the temple in Jerusalem? Right then, and every year?”

“Yes, Mark. That’s what Luke says.”

“So . . . what does Matthew say? I don’t think they agree.”

Shirlee grumpily flipped back to Matthew, ready to show Mark that the Bible was indeed inerrant.

After visiting Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Bethlehem, the wise men returned home by a different way, having been warned by God in a dream to stay away from Herod in Jerusalem.

After the wise men left, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to get up, and take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt right away, for Herod wanted to kill Jesus!

When Joseph woke up, he got up that night and fled to Egypt. The family stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod; and, as it was prophesied, ‘Out of Egypt shall [God] call [His] Son’.

Herod, having realized that the wise men mocked him by not coming back, sent forth men to kill all the children of Bethlehem and the surrounding area two years of age or younger, based on when the wise men had said the star appeared. (Matthew 2:12-16)

Shirlee sat silent, knowing what was coming.

“So . . .”, said Mark.

“So what?”

“Which is accurate, Shirlee? Did they go to Jerusalem, where Herod was waiting to kill Jesus, right after He was circumcised? And then live in Nazareth and go to Jerusalem for Passover every year? Or did they run off to Egypt right after the wise men left, and not come back until Herod died? They are completely different stories! They can’t both be right!”

CLANG! The cracked church bell sounded, seeming more sour and off-key than usual to Shirlee. Maybe it was the cold.

“Time to go, children. I’ll see you next week!” Shirlee got up, ready to head home. Some egg nog sounded pretty good about now. And not the non-alcoholic kind.

“But which one is right, Shirlee?”

“Merry Christmas, kids! Your parents are waiting for you!”

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