Soon after the time when John the Baptist was born, Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth had a dream. In his dream he saw an angel from the Lord standing beside him. The angel said to him:
“Joseph, sprung from the line of king David, 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.”
God’s people had had several kings. Some of them had been selfish and cruel, but Jesus was to be a new kind of king, one who would save, not destroy men.
Soon after Joseph and Mary were married in Nazareth, a command went forth from the emperor Augustus Cæsar 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 names written down upon a list, for the emperor wished a list to be made of all 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.
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 you 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; 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.
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.