Shepherds

In the fields near Bethlehem, there were some shepherds spending the night, taking care of their flocks (14).

shepherds

Suddenly, an angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God was shining all around them! They were terrified, but the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all people. Today, in David’s town, your Savior was born — Jesus the Christ! You will know this is true when you find the baby wrapped snugly & lying in a feeding trough.”

Then a great army of angels appeared in the night sky, singing praises to God! “Glory to God in heaven, and peace to his people on earth!”

Shepherds

When the angels had gone, the shepherds said to one another, “We have to go to Bethlehem & see this.” So they hurried to Bethlehem, and they found Mary & Joseph, and they saw the baby lying in the feeding trough.

manger

The shepherds told Joseph & Mary what the angel had said about the child.  Mary didn’t understand it all, but she didn’t dismiss it either.  Instead, she kept all these things in her heart & thought of them often.

The shepherds went back to their flocks, praising God for all they had heard & seen.  Everything had happened just as the angel had told them it would.  As the news spread, people were amazed at the shepherds’ claim that Jesus was the Messiah whom God had promised in the inspired Jewish scriptures!

A week later, when the time came for the baby to be circumcised, he was named Jesus, the very name which the angel had given for him, before Mary became pregnant.

 

(14) Luke 2:8-21

Birth Of Jesus

While Mary & Joseph were still engaged to be married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit, as the angel had told her (11).

Joseph didn’t want to disgrace Mary publicly, so he decided to break their engagement privately. But an angel of God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She has become pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God. She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus – which means that he will save his people from their sins.”

angel-to-joseph

(This happened according to what God had said about Jesus through one of his prophets, 700 years earlier: “A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Emmanuel” — which means “God is with us”.)

When Joseph woke up, he obeyed God’s angel & married Mary. But they didn’t have sexual relations while she was carrying her son inside her body, the son whom Joseph would name Jesus (12).

Before Jesus was born, the Emperor Augustus had ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire (13). At that time, Quirinius was the governor of Syria, which was the Roman name for the province that included the areas of Galilee & Judea. Every resident had to register with the census-takers in his own hometown.  So Joseph had to walk from the town of Nazareth in Galilee about 70 miles to the little town of Bethlehem in Judea.

Bethlehem

Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David; Joseph went there because he was descended from David.  Joseph took Mary with him, since they were engaged to be married.

While they were in Bethlehem to register for the census, Mary gave birth to her son.  Because there was no room for the couple to stay in the inn, Jesus was born in the stable out back.

Nativity

Mary wrapped her baby snugly & placed him in a cradle — improvised from a trough used for feeding the animals.

 

(11) Matthew 1:18-25

(12) Four men wrote accounts of the life & ministry of Jesus; they were Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.  Matthew includes a list of ancestors of Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, going back to Abraham.   Luke also includes a list of ancestors of Jesus, going back to Adam; some people think Luke lists ancestors of Joseph, but others think they are ancestors of Mary.

(13) Luke 2:1-7

Birth Of John The Baptizer

About the same time, Elizabeth gave birth to her son (9). Her neighbors and relatives heard how good God had been to her, and they all rejoiced with her.

When the baby was a week old, they came to dedicate him to God.  Some family members & friends wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No, his name will be John.” They said to her, “But you don’t have any relative with that name!”

Then they made signs to his father, asking him what name he would like the boy to have. Zechariah asked for a slate and wrote, “His name is John” — which astonished everyone there. Suddenly, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he started praising God. Now everyone was even more astonished!

zechariah

Then Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he spoke this message from God: “Let us praise God! He has come to help his people and to set us free. He has provided for us a mighty Savior, a descendant of his servant David.

“He promised through the prophets long ago that he would save us from all who hate us. He promised our ancestor Abraham that he would show mercy to us & rescue us from our enemies.  Now, he wants us to serve him without fear, and to be holy & righteous before him all the days of our lives.”

Baptist birth

To the baby John, Zechariah said: “You, my child, will be called a prophet of God. You will go ahead of the Messiah (10)– to prepare the way for him, to tell his people that they will be saved by having their sins forgiven.

“Our God is merciful and tender. He will cause the light of salvation to dawn upon us, to shine from heaven on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, and to guide our steps into the path of peace.”

The news about these things spread through the hill country of Judea. Everyone who heard of it wondered, “What sort of life will this child have?” For it was plain that God’s power was upon him.

The child grew and developed in body and spirit. He lived in the desert until the day when he appeared publicly to the people of Israel — as John the Baptizer.

 

(9) Luke 1:57-80

(10) In the inspired Jewish scriptures, Jesus is usually referred to as the Messiah.  In the inspired Christian scriptures, Jesus is usually referred to as the Christ.  Both these titles mean that Jesus is the Savior; he came to save us from our sinful selves.

Mary & Elizabeth

Soon afterward, Mary left Galilee & went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, in Judea (8).  She went to Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, her baby moved inside her! Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed to Mary: “You are the most blessed of all women, and the baby inside you is blessed. As soon as I heard your greeting, my baby actually jumped inside me!  It is awesome that you have come to visit me.

“Mary, you are being blessed by God because you believe what the angel told you. Now God will make all these things happen.”

maryandelizabeth2

Then Mary prayed, “My heart praises God, and my soul is glad because God has saved me.  He remembers me, even though I am his lowly servant. From now on all people will call me blessed, because of the great things that God has done for me.

“God’s name is holy.  He always shows mercy to those who honor him. With his mighty arm he has scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones.

“But God lifts up the lowly. He fills the hungry with good things, and he sends the rich away empty-handed.

“God has kept the promise he made to our ancestors, and he has come to help his chosen people, Israel. He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham & to all his descendants forever.”

magnificat-3

Mary stayed about three months with Elizabeth & Zechariah, and then she went back home to Nazareth.

(8) Luke 1:39-56

Mary

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee (also part of modern Israel). He had a message for a girl named Mary, who was engaged to marry a man named Joseph (7).

The angel came to Mary and said, “I offer you peace. God loves you and has greatly blessed you.” This message was confusing to Mary; she didn’t understand what blessing the angel was referring to.

So the angel said to her, “Don’t worry, Mary.  God is showering you with his great grace. You will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great, and he will be called the son of God. God will make him a king, like your ancestor David was.  Jesus will be the king of the children of Israel forever; his kingdom will never end.”

7_mary-gabriel

“How can this be, since I’m a virgin?” Mary asked.  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you with the power of God. Your child will be called the son of God.

“Remember your relative Elizabeth? Everybody thought she couldn’t have children because she was too old, but she’s already six months pregnant. God can do anything!”

“I am God’s servant,” said Mary. “If this is God’s will for me, then this is my will, too.”

And the angel left Mary.

 

(7) Luke 1:26-38

Zechariah & Elizabeth

What actually happened, when Jesus first came into this seemingly insignificant world? It began like this . . . (6)

During the time when Herod the Great was king of Judea (part of modern Israel), about 2,000 years ago, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, was also descended from a priestly family. Both Zechariah & Elizabeth lived good lives in God’s sight; they obeyed all of God’s laws and commands. But, they had no children, and they thought they never would, since they were both very old.

One day Zechariah was doing his work as a priest in the temple; he had been chosen to burn incense on the altar.  Outside, a crowd of people prayed while the incense was burned. But inside, an angel of God appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar! When Zechariah saw the angel, he was afraid.

Zechariah

The angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah.  God has heard your prayer, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. You must name him John. He will be a great servant of God. He mustn’t drink any wine or strong drink. He will be filled with God’s Holy Spirit from his birth, and he will point the people of Israel back to God, like the prophet Elijah!  He will encourage those people, who have been disobeying God, to start obeying God again.  He will get God’s people ready for his coming.”

Zechariah was skeptical & said to the angel, “How can we have a baby? I am an old man, and my wife is old, too.” “But I am Gabriel,” the angel answered. “God sent me to tell you this good news! Although you haven’t believed my message, it will come true at the right time. Because you haven’t believed me, you will not be able to speak, until the day God’s promise to you comes true!”

Outside, the praying people were waiting for Zechariah; they wondered why he was in the temple so long. When Zechariah came out & couldn’t speak, the people realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. Zechariah tried to communicate by making signs to the people with his hands, but to no avail.

dumb-zechariah

So eventually, Zechariah & Elizabeth went back home.

Sometime later, Elizabeth actually did become pregnant!  As she rested at home for five months, she told others of God’s mercy: “The Lord has blessed me. God has taken away my public disgrace.”

 

(6) Luke 1:5-25

The First Coming

Before the world was created, Jesus already existed (4).  He was with God, and he was the same as God. Jesus has always been with God.  God made all things through Jesus.  Nothing, nothing in all creation, was made without him.

Some people, who don’t want to know God, favor other notions of how life began.  But consider the intricate & amazing beauty of creation.  This life didn’t happen by chance; we didn’t just get lucky.  Jesus is the source of all life, and his life brings light to all people.  His light still shines into any darkness, and no darkness has ever put it out.

About 2,000 years ago, God sent a messenger, a man named John the Baptizer, who came to tell people about the light — so that people would hear about Jesus and believe in him.  John the Baptizer was not the light; he came to tell about the real light that Jesus was bringing into the world for all people.

Then, at about the same time, Jesus himself came into the world.

John 1

But even though God made the world through Jesus, people in the world didn’t recognize him.  When Jesus came back as an adult to the place where he had grown up, even the people there didn’t recognize him.

However, other people recognized Jesus and believed in him.  Jesus gave those people the right to become God’s children.  This didn’t happen by any sort of physical birth, involving a human father.  Instead, these people experienced a completely new spiritual birth, whereby God himself became their father; these people were “born again.”

So Jesus came from God & became a human being & lived in the world for about 30 years.  As we get to know him, we realize that Jesus is perfect truth: from him, we learn how to live right all the time.

Sometimes we run from this notion that there is a right way to live, because we all know that we don’t live right all the time.  That’s why it’s so liberating to realize that Jesus is also perfect grace: from him, we get the power to live right all the time.  We don’t have to do it on our own, as seductive as that sometimes seems.

grace-and-truth

The close friend, who has left us a record of his relationship with Jesus, was John the Witness (5). He actually saw the glory which Jesus received as God’s only son.

And John the Baptizer cried out, when speaking about Jesus, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘He seems younger than I am, but he’s greater than I am, because he existed before I was born!'”

Jesus wants to bless all people with his grace, giving us one blessing after another.  God gave his law through Moses, but truth & grace come through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God the Father. But Jesus, who is one with his father, makes God known to us.

 

(4) John 1:1-18

(5) A Witness (or an Apostle) is one of the original & closest followers of Jesus, who were sent into the world to tell people about Jesus.