Once upon a time there was a Year One. Strangely enough, it was not the beginning of the years. The world was already very old: nobody knows how old. People had been living on the earth, time out of mind, in mighty nations, fighting great battles and building great cities. But somehow, everything seemed to begin over again that year, because that was when the King came. And we have taken it ever since as the most important of all dates. When we say that this present year is Nineteen-hundred-and-something, we mean that the Year One was just so many years ago.
It is always to be remembered about that year that one of its days was Christmas Day.
You may not think that strange. Christmas comes so regularly every year, like apples in autumn and snow in winter, that it seems to belong to the order of nature, and one may easily imagine that it has been celebrated always, and that it is as old as boys and girls. But the truth is that there was never any Christmas till the Year One.
Year after year, and year after year, the evergreen trees grew in the woods and nobody came to get them. Nobody thought of lighting them up with candles or of loading them down with candies. The holly showed its berries of red and the mistletoe its berries of white, and nobody paid any attention to them: except perhaps the Druids, whoever they were, and they had never heard of Christmas. The twenty-fifth day of December came and went, like the twenty-second and the twenty-ninth; and boys and girls were born and grew up into men and women with never a Christmas carol nor a Christmas tree nor a Christmas gift, and without having so much as heard of the singing angels or of the Holy Child; because that was before the King came.
Now, in the Year One, there lived in a quiet little place, in a small village hidden among hills, a young girl named Mary. I cannot tell you how old she was, but we will guess that she was at the age when girlhood passes into womanhood. Neither can I tell you how she looked, or whether her eyes were brown like the earth or blue like the sky; but we may be sure that she had a sweet face, because she was very good and gentle, and had a fair and sweet soul.
One day, Mary was sitting alone in her room. She may have been reading; for we know that she loved to read. A poem which she wrote, called the Magnificat, is full of the memories of books. Or, she may have been sewing; for she was presently to be married, and would be getting ready for the wedding. She was to marry a neighbor, the village carpenter, named Joseph. It was a spring morning, and the flowers were in blossom, and the birds were singing, and the sun was shining. Thus she sat, with her heart full of beautiful thoughts, when of a sudden such a gleam of splendor shone about her that it seemed as if the sun had been under a thick cloud and had just come out and begun to blaze in good earnest. Mary turned to see where this new brightness came from; and there beside the door, dressed all in white, stood a resplendent angel.
The angel said, "Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." And Mary was afraid, and began to tremble; so that the angel said, "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God." Then, while she held her breath and listened, he told his wonderful errand. God had seen the sin and sorrow that were upon the earth. He had heard little children, and even grown men and women, fathers and mothers, crying. He knew how people were trying to be good and making a sad failure of it because they were ignorant or weak. And now God was about to do what He had long promised: He was to come and live among us. God had, indeed, lived among men always, as He does to-day: always and everywhere we are in the presence of God. But now he was to make himself known in a new way. The King of Glory was to take our human nature upon him, and become a man like us. He was to come, not in his royal robes of splendor, not in the garments of the sunset, not with his holy angels with him, but as a little child, to be born as we are, to grow as we grow, and thus by living our life to teach us how to live. And when the King came in his humility, Mary was to be his mother.
And Mary said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." Then the angel departed from her. That was the first day of the Year One.