Some 2000 years ago a young lady, named Mary, about 15 years of age, was praying in her home. All of a sudden she saw a stranger standing before her. She did not know how he had come in. The visitor was brighter than the light of day, and Mary frightened. She understood that he was not a man but an angel, when he greeted her: " Hail, you who are full of grace; the Lord is with you."
The angel told her not to be afraid. Then he conveyed her the message that she would bear a son to be called Jesus." He shall be great," said the angel. "and men will know him for the Son of the Most High," which is one of the names of God. The Lord God would give him the throne of his ancestor, David, king of the Jews; he would make him a king, but one different from earthly kings, for unlike human kingdoms and empires, " his kingdom," said the angel, " shall never have an end." Mary who was not yet married, asked the angel how it could be. He answered her: " The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you."
Mary had always been obedient to the law of God, bow she confirmed that his will was hers. Thus this humble maid was chosen to become the mother of one, whom the angel called the Son of the Most High, to be named Jesus, which means Savior.
She remembered that 700 years earlier Prophet Isaiah, had foretold: "A virgin will conceive". It was also announced that the Savior would be of the family of David to which she belonged, as did Joseph, the young man to whom she was betrothed. Mary, full of joy, thanked God daily for his gift. Her elder cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, also congratulated her on being God's choice.
Some time later, Mary was married to a young man of David's clan, called Joseph. A carpenter by profession, he was God-fearing, pious and of great virtue. Before the marriage, learning Mary's condition, he had felt puzzled. But during the night, in a dream an angel of God reassured him, inviting him to take Mary as his wife, for it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that she had conceived a child. "Mary", the angel said, "will bear a Son, whom you shall call Jesus, for he is to save his people from their sins." So Joseph took Mary into his house; he kept her secret and protected the all pure virgin, ready to become the guardian of her Child.
A few months after the marriage, Joseph and Mary left Nazareth and traveled to Bethlehem, the birth place of King David. The Roman Emperor, Augustus, wanting to know the size of the population of his empire, had ordered a census to be taken. In Palestine, a province of the Empire, the Governor issued orders that all Jews should register their names in their ancestral home town. Joseph set out for Bethlehem on foot, leading a donkey on which sat Mary. They traveled peacefully for 4-5 days. When they reached Bethlehem, the town and the local inn were crowded with visitors. Joseph and Mary found shelter and privacy in one of the grottoes situated outside the town. There shepherds sometimes took refuge with their sheep during the night. In this grotto Mary was delivered of a son. She wrapped him in swaddling-clothes and laid him to rest in a manger, where they kept the food for the animals. Jesus, the Savior, was born into the world.
He was born in absolute poverty and simplicity. But God wanted the world to hear of the good news without delay.
At a short distance from Bethlehem, a group of shepherds had gathered their flocks for the night's rest. All of a sudden, they were awakened and startled by a bright apparition, such as they had never seen before. They heard an angel announce to them: "Do not be afraid; behold the news I bring you is good news of a great rejoicing for the whole people. This day in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you, no other than the Lord Christ. This is the sign by which you are to know him; you will find a child still in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger."
Without delay, they started in search of the Lord Christ. The city of David they knew was Bethlehem. There they went to those grottoes and looked inside. In one of them, they saw a man and a woman watching over a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Entering it they told of the angel who had announced to them the happy news. Having paid their homage to the young king, and offered some little lambs in token of their devotion, they went back to their flocks, their hearts full of joy. They marveled that the Child-King was so feeble, so approachable to poor people like them, with dirty hands, patched clothes, but hearts melting like butter in the sun of his life.
Eight days after birth the Boy was circumcised according to the religious prescriptions of the Jews, and given the name Jesus as the angel had told. On the 40th day Jesus was taken to Jerusalem to be offered to God in the temple. As they entered the temple, a man of great holiness called Simeon, stepped forward to meet them. God had revealed to him that he would not die before seeing the Savior. Led by the Spirit he had come to the temple, where he met Mary and Joseph bringing the Child Jesus.
The Child was also recognized by an old woman called Anna, a widow 84 years old. Her husband died 7 years after the marriage and it was since then she had lived a life of prayer, in expectation of the Savior. The priest took the Child, and offered him to God without comment; he did not know who he was. An old man and an old woman alone had greeted the Lord coming to his temple. They had acknowledged the end of the old Law, which like Simeon could now retire from the stage of history. The old Law was antiquated; the time had come for its exit. The old order could retire with Simeon and Anna, whilst the new order was being prepared into the world by Mary.
It was then Joseph and Mary came back to Bethlehem. They settled down in a house where they were to receive some remarkable visitors.
A group of wise men, called Magi, had seen an unknown star moving in the heavens some time previously. They knew that the Messias was expected about this time, and connected the appearance of this star with the birth of one. They felt an inclination to follow the star, which seemed to invite them. They set off on their camels, provided with presents for the newborn king and journeyed to Jerusalem. In quest of a young king, these scholars, men of high standing, entered into King Herod's residence to enquire where they could find the newly born king of the Jews. The news of Messias' birth astonished all in the palace. For they knew nothing of this. Herod, a half-Bedouin succeeded in getting to the throne with the support of the Romans, and contrived to remain on it with the help of spies and assassins. This proud and selfish ruler was not a man to accept any challenge to his authority and decided that the young competitor must disappear. The scholars told Herod that Bethlehem was named by the holy scriptures to be the birth place of the Savior, Herod had directed these pilgrims from the East to continue their journey to Bethlehem, and find the young king out there. He also instructed them to call again on their return journey, to inform him of the whereabouts of the Child; he himself wished to go and pay him homage, he added.
On leaving Jerusalem, the wise men were overjoyed to see again the star. It led them to Bethlehem and stopped above the place where the Child lay. They entered the house they prostrated themselves at the feet of the Child with deep faith. Then opening the treasures they had brought, offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
After paying homage to the Child, the Magi started on their way home. They avoided Jerusalem, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod.
Soon understood that they had eluded him. Greatly angered and anxious for his throne, he sent soldiers to Bethlehem with orders to kill all male children below the age of two years. The soldiers reached there and did as ordered.
Herod did not know that this massacre was useless. For, Joseph, warned by an angel in his sleep, had taken the Child and his mother Mary away. They were on the road to Egypt, the road to voluntary exile. The Light had come to the world and men whose actions were bad tried to extinguish this light: they preferred to live in darkness to keep their bad deeds secret. To Joseph and Mary, Egypt meant safety, but also the bitter bread exile in a land where the Jew had been a captive doing the work of slaves. Despite all these the Child was safe. Joseph and Mary, accustomed to hard work, with simple needs, kept in perfect peace their soul centered on God. He had saved the Child from the sword of Herod's executioners, he would protect them in all circumstances.
Meanwhile, King Herod, a man of incredible cruelty and duplicity, a killer of his own wives and grown-up sons had been arrested by his own son. There he had developed fatal illness. And died shrouded in curses and the hatred of the whole population. With his death there spread over Jerusalem and the whole state a general sense of relief. Once again the angel warned Joseph in his sleep that he could now take the Child and Mary back into his own country. Soon Joseph and Mary along with the Child went back to his own country into Galilee to the village of Nazareth. Henceforth, the Child of Joseph and Mary, the Messias, would be known by all as the son of Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth.