OON after the time when John the Baptist was born, Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, the husband of Mary, had a dream. In his dream he saw an angel from the Lord standing beside him. The angel said to him:
"Joseph, I have come to tell you, that Mary, the young woman whom you are to marry, will have a son, sent by the Lord God. You shall call his name Jesus, which means 'salvation,' because he shall save his people from their sins."
Joseph knew from this that this coming child was to be the King of Israel, of whom the prophets of the Old Testament had spoken so many times.
Soon after Joseph and Mary were married in Nazareth, a command went forth from the emperor, Augustus Caesar, through all the lands of the Roman empire, for all the people to go to the cities and towns from which their families had come, and there to have their manes written down upon a list, for the emperor wished a list to be made of the people under his rule. As both Joseph and Mary had come from the family of David the king, they went together from Nazareth to Bethlehem, there to have their names written upon the list. For you remember that Bethlehem in Judea, six miles south of Jerusalem, was the place where David was born, and where his father's family had lived for many years (see Story 57).
It was a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem; down the mountains to the river Jordan, then following the Jordan almost to its end, and then climbing the mountains of Judah to the town of Bethlehem. When Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem they found the city full of people who, like themselves, had come to have their names enrolled or written upon the list. The inn or hotel was full, and there was no room for them; for no one but themselves knew that this young woman was soon to be the mother of the Lord of all the earth. The best that they could do was to go to a stable, where the cattle were kept. There the little baby was born, and was laid in a manger, where the cattle were fed.
On that night some shepherds were tending their sheep in a field near Bethlehem. Suddenly a great light shone upon them, and they saw an angel of the Lord standing before them. They were filled with fear, as they saw how glorious the angel was. But the angel said to them:
"Be not afraid; for behold I bring you news of great joy, which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day in Bethlehem, the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord, the anointed king. You may see him there; and may know him by this sign: He is a new-born baby, lying in a manger at the inn."
And then they saw that the air around and the sky above them were filled with angels, praising God and singing:
"Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace among men in whom God is well pleased."
While they looked with wonder, and listened the angels went out of sight as suddenly as they had come. Then the shepherds said, one to another:
"Let us go at once to Bethlehem, and see this wonderful thing that has come to pass, and which the Lord has made known to us."
Then as quickly as they could go to Bethlehem, they went and found Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, and his young wife Mary, and the little baby lying in the manger. They told Mary and Joseph and others also, how they had seen the angels, and what they had heard about this baby. All who heard their story wondered at it; but Mary, the mother of the child, said nothing. She thought over all these things, and silently kept them in her heart. After their visit, the shepherds went back to their flocks, praising God for the good news that he had sent to them.
Jesus in the manger, with angels looking on
When the little one was eight days old they gave him a name; and the name given was "Jesus," a word which means "salvation;" as the angel had told both Mary and Joseph that he should be named. So the very name of this child told what he should do for men; for he was to bring salvation to the world.
It was the law among the Jews that after the first child was born in a family, he should be brought to the Temple; and there an offering should be made for him to the Lord, to show that this child was the Lord's. A rich man would offer a lamb, but a poor man might give a pair of young pigeons for the sacrifice. On the day when Jesus was forty days old, Joseph and Mary brought him to the Temple; and as Joseph the carpenter was not a rich man, they gave for the child as an offering a pair of young pigeons.
The baby Jesus brought to the temple
At that time there was living in Jerusalem a man of God named Simeon. The Lord had spoken to Simeon, and had said to him that he should not die until the Anointed King should come, whom they called "the Christ," for the word Christ means "anointed." On a certain day the Spirit of the Lord told Simeon to go to the Temple. He went, and was there when Joseph and Mary brought the little child Jesus. The Spirit of the Lord said to Simeon:
"This little one is the promised Christ."
Then Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised the Lord and said:
"Now, O Lord, thou mayest let thy servant depart,
According to thy word, in peace.
For my eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast given before all the peoples,
A light to give light to the nations,
And the glory of thy people Israel."
When Joseph and Mary heard this, they wondered greatly. Simeon gave to them a blessing in the name of the Lord; and he said to Mary, "This little one shall cause many in Israel to fall, and to rise again. Many shall speak against him; and sorrow like a sword shall pierce your heart also."
You know how this came to pass afterward, when Mary saw her son dying on the cross.
While Simeon was speaking, a very old woman came in. Her name was Anna and God spoke to her as to a prophet. She stayed almost all the time in the Temple, worshipping God day and night. She, too, saw through the Spirit of the Lord, that this little child was Christ the Lord, and gave thanks to God for his grace.
Thus early in the life of Jesus God showed to a few that this little child should become the Saviour of his people and of the world.