The following is a contemporary English version of the Bible’s Christmas story, designed to be read aloud (serially or at one sitting) to children of all ages during the Christmas season. If you choose to read it serially, please read a portion each day for about a week, ending the story on Christmas morning.
Long, long ago—at the dawn of human history as we know it—many centuries before the birth in Bethlehem, Israel, of a special baby named Jesus—long ago while the earth was still young and unspoiled, Creator God told the first Man and Woman that in the far distant future one of their descendants—a unique male baby—would be born, and one day when he was grown up He would crush and take away sin and death which had recently entered the world as enemies of the human race. Moreover, He would ultimately give his very own eternal LIFE to every human born since our first parents.
Centuries slowly passed and no such baby was born, even though each passing generation of God’s followers continued year after year after year to anticipate the baby’s birth. From time to time through the passing centuries, God would remind his waiting children that the time would surely come for that special baby to be born. After all, God does not look at the slow passage of time the same way we humans do.
Some 2,000 years before the birth of that special baby, a man named Abraham, called “The Friend of God,” had faith in God’s promises. 600 years later, the great leader, Moses, also believed the special baby would be born some future day. As the centuries rolled on, King David believed, too—fully a thousand years before that special event. The ancient prophet Isaiah knew about it some 700 years before it occurred.
God inspired Isaiah to write about it in these words: “The Lord Himself will give a sign: a child shall be born to a virgin! The child shall be named ‘Emmanuel,’ meaning ‘God with us.’ For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. The government shall be upon his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful. Counselor. The Mighty God. The Father of eternity. The Prince of Peace. His ever-expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule with perfect fairness and justice from the throne of his forefather, King David. He will bring true justice and peace to all the nations of the world. This is all going to happen because God himself will do it!”
Another prophet, Micah, who also lived 700 years before the birth of that special child, wrote: “O Bethlehem, you are but a small village in Israel, yet you will be the birthplace of the King of all time and eternity!” Still, the long centuries rolled on. But at long last the time was finally beginning to draw near when God’s special baby would be born. God began to orchestrate great and marvelous events in the starry heavens and on the waiting earth.
Wise men from the fabled land of Persia—men who were scientists and astronomers—had read in the stars and ancient books about a king to be born soon in the nation of Israel hundreds of miles to the west. They began to make preparations to embark upon a long journey to pay homage to the baby who would soon be born King of all people.
As great events were occurring in the starry heavens, God then began to cause certain events to take place in the world’s leading empire—the great Roman Empire—by causing the most powerful world leader of that time—Emperor Caesar—to establish an entirely new government tax and census bureau so that the baby would be born exactly where Micah—700 years earlier—had prophesied he would be born.
The stage was almost ready now. The Jewish people were living in expectation of great events. They were oppressed by the occupying Roman armies, but strongly convinced the long-awaited King would come soon. Various groups pictured the King differently, but hardly a Jew of that day lived without hope in some form. Two people in the Jewish nation who had true faith in God and looked for a King to come were a middle-aged man named Joseph and a young, teenaged girl named Mary. To such faithful hearts came the first stirrings of God’s Spirit, preparing them for the birth of the special baby.
Another who had true faith was a priest named Zachariah. He was in the holy city of Jerusalem for his annual two-week tour of duty as the officiating priest at the Temple. The offer of a lifetime came for Zachariah this year—he was chosen to offer incense to God all alone in the great Temple—a tremendous honor.
Listen to what happened to Zachariah: “Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth were godly people, careful to obey all God’s laws in spirit as well as in letter. But they had no children, for Elizabeth had been unable to conceive, and now they were both very old. One day Zachariah was going about his work in the Temple and it was his day to burn incense before God. Meanwhile, a great crowd stood outside in the Temple court, praying as they always did during that part of the service when incense was being burned.
“Zachariah was in the sanctuary when suddenly an angel appeared, standing to the right of the altar of incense! His clothing and face glowed with a bright light. Zachariah was startled and terrified. But the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zachariah! For I have come to tell you that God has heard your prayer, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son! You must name him John. You will both feel great joy and gladness at John’s birth, and many others will rejoice with you. John will be one of God’s great men.
“He will be filled with God’s Spirit even from before his birth! And he will persuade many people to turn to God. ‘He will be a man of rugged spirit and power like Elijah, one of God’s ancient prophets, and he will precede the coming of the King, preparing the people for his arrival. He will help adults to believe like little children, and will change disobedient people to the wisdom of true faith.’ ‘But . . . but . . . my wife and I are too old to have a baby. This is impossible,’ stammered Zachariah. ‘Elizabeth and I are both too old to have a baby!’
“Then the angel strongly replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s very presence. It was He who sent me to you with this good news! And because you haven’t believed me, from now until John is born—and he WILL be born—you will be unable to speak. For my words will certainly come true at the right time.’ Meanwhile, the crowds outside were uneasy, waiting for Zachariah to appear; they wondered why he was taking so long inside.
“When he finally came out, he couldn’t speak to them, and they realized from his gestures that something strange, unusual, and wonderful must have happened to him inside the Temple. Soon afterwards his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. ‘How kind God is,’ she exclaimed, ‘to take away my disgrace of having no children.'”
Now wonder-filled events began to move even more rapidly. The wise men from Persia had already begun their long journey by camel train to seek out the new King whom they knew would be born soon. Among the angels of heaven there was mounting excitement as they anticipated the great events soon to occur on earth. After all, it wasn’t often God dispatched the mighty angel Gabriel himself on a special mission to earth.
Finally, time and eternity—and heaven and earth—are about to touch together as events begin to unfold more rapidly now. We read: “A month after Elizabeth had gone into seclusion, God sent the same angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in the region of Galilee, to a teenage virgin named Mary, who was engaged to be married to a middle-aged man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, ‘Hail, favored lady! You have been specially chosen! God is with you in a special way!’ “
“Confused and disturbed, Mary wondered what Gabriel meant. What was he saying to her? Suddenly she felt very uneasy. ‘Don’t be frightened, Mary,’ Gabriel told her, ‘for God has decided to wonderfully bless you! Very soon now, you will become pregnant and give birth to a baby boy. You are to name him ‘Jesus.’ He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God. who shall give him the throne of his ancestor, King David. He shall reign over all the earth for all time and eternity. His Kingdom shall never end!’
“Mary asked Gabriel, ‘But how can I have a baby?’ I’m still a virgin. I’m not married to Joseph yet. I don’t understand.’ Gabriel replied, ‘God’s Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall be inside you, so the baby born to you will be completely holy—the Son of God. Furthermore, six months ago your aunt Elizabeth—’the barren one,’ people used to call her—became pregnant in her old age! Truly, every promise God makes will come true.’
“Mary replied, ‘I am God’s servant, and I am ready to serve God in whatever way He chooses. May everything you said come true.’ And then Gabriel disappeared. Mary wasted no time, hurrying a few days later to the highlands of Judea to visit Zachariah and Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her and she was filled with God’s Spirit.
“Elizabeth shouted a happy greeting and exclaimed to Mary, ‘You are favored by God above all other women, and your baby is destined for God’s mightiest praise. What an honor this is, that the mother of God should visit me! When you came in and greeted me, the instant I heard your voice, my baby leaped inside me for joy! You believed God would do what He said. That is why He has given you this wonderful blessing to be the mother of his Son.’
“Mary responded, ‘Oh, how I praise God. How I rejoice that He is my Savior! For He took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation shall call me blessed of God. For He, the mighty holy One, has done great things for me. His mercy rolls on from generation to generation, to all who reverence him. How powerful is his mighty arm! How he scatters people who are proud and full of themselves!
“He has deposed princes from their thrones and raised up those who are humble. He has satisfied people with hungry hearts and sent away the rich with empty hands. And how he has helped his servants, the people of Israel. He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful. For long ago he promised our forefathers—Abraham and his descendants—to be merciful to them for all time.’ “ Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her own home.
By now, Elizabeth’s waiting was over, for the time had come for the baby John to be born—and it was a boy, just as Gabriel had promised. The word of John’s birth spread quickly to her neighbors and relatives about how kind God had been to her, and everyone rejoiced. When the baby was eight days old, all the relatives and friends came for the circumcision ceremony. They all assumed the baby’s name would be Zachariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, ‘No, he must be named John.’ What?’ they exclaimed. ‘There is no one in all your family by that name.’ So they asked Zachariah. He motioned for a piece of paper, and to everyone’s surprise wrote: ‘His name is John!’ Instantly Zachariah could speak again, and he began praising God.
Wonder fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened quickly spread through the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it thought long thoughts and asked, ‘I wonder what this child will turn out to be? For the hand of God is surely upon him in some special way.’ Then his father Zachariah was filled with God’s Spirit and spoke this prophecy: ‘Praise the God of Israel, for He has come to visit his people and redeem them. He is sending us a Mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant, King David, just as he promised through his prophets long ago.’
“Zachariah continued to prophesy: ‘God has been merciful to our ancestors—yes, to Abraham himself, by remembering his sacred promise to him, and by granting us the privilege of serving him fearlessly, freed from our enemies, and by making us holy and acceptable, ready to stand in his presence for all time. And you, my little son, John, shall be called the prophet of the glorious God, for you will prepare the way for the true King, the special Anointed One. You will tell people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. All this will be because the mercy of God is very tender, and heaven’s dawn is about to break upon us, to give light to all who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, and to guide us to the path of peace.’
The baby John loved God, and when he grew up he lived out in the lonely wilderness until he began his public ministry to the nation of Israel. Finally, the great mystery of the ages, hidden for ages and centuries of time, now begins to be fully unveiled. The curtain between time and eternity is drawn back. Listen to what Matthew, an early follower of Jesus, wrote: “These are the facts concerning the birth of Jesus: His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin she became pregnant by God’s Spirit. Joseph, her fianceé, couldn’t understand how Mary had become pregnant, and, being a man of principle, decided to break the engagement but to do it quietly as he didn’t want to publicly disgrace Mary. He didn’t want this to become a big scandal.
“As he lay in bed considering everything, he fell asleep and began to dream. In the dream, an angel stood beside him. ‘Joseph, descendant of King David,’ the angel said, ‘don’t hesitate to take Mary as your wife! For the baby within her was placed there by God’s Spirit. And Mary will give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus (meaning ‘Savior’), for He will save his people from their sins. This will fulfill all of God’s promises through the prophets in ages past.’
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel commanded him. He went ahead with the marriage and brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until after the baby was born. And Joseph named the baby, ‘Jesus.’
After Matthew had written about Jesus’ birth, then Doctor Luke, a noted medical doctor and historian of that time, wrote this more detailed account about the birth of Jesus: “About this time Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor, ordered that a census for tax purposes should be taken throughout the empire. This census is the one taken when Quirinius was Governor of Syria. It was late spring of the year and everyone was required to return to his ancestral home for this tax registration.
Because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to travel 80 miles south through the Jordan River valley to Bethlehem in Judea, King David’s ancient home—journeying there from the Galilean village of Nazareth where Joseph and Mary lived and where Joseph conducted his thriving carpenter business.
Joseph took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant by this time. The trip took about a week; they had to go slowly because of Mary’s late-stage pregnancy. When they arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room at the village inn, so they stayed in a stable in a hollowed out, barn-like cave in the hills near the village. While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be born, and Mary gave birth to her first child, a son. The midwife and other women helped Mary wrap the baby in a blanket. For a makeshift cradle, they took a small feeding trough used for the domestic animals in the stable, cleaned it, packed it with fresh straw, and covered it with a cloth.
That enchanting, clear spring night, some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, tending their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel appeared among them, and the landscape shone bright with the glory of God. The shepherds were badly frightened, but the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior—yes, the special Anointed One, the King, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognize Him? You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger in a cave!’
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of other angels—the armies of heaven—thousands upon thousands of them—praising God: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,’ they said, ‘and peace on earth for all those who try to live lives that please God!’ When this great army of angels had risen in the night sky and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Come on! Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which God has told us about.’
They ran to the village and found their way to Mary and Joseph. And just as the angel had said, there was the baby lying in the manger. The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had told them about this baby. All who heard the shepherds’ story expressed astonishment, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and often thought about them while the baby Jesus grew to be a man.
When the baby was a little older and the family was living in Nazareth, the astronomers from Persia finally arrived in Jerusalem, the capitol of Israel, asking ‘Where is the newborn King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in far-off eastern lands, and have come to worship Him.’ King Herod was deeply disturbed by their questions, and all Jerusalem was filled with rumors. Herod called a meeting of the religious leaders. ‘Did the prophets tell us where the special Anointed One would be born?’ he asked them. ‘Yes, in Bethlehem,’ they replied, ‘for that is what the prophet Micah wrote about almost 700 years ago.’
Then Herod sent a private message to the wise men from the East, asking them to come see him; at this meeting he found out from them the exact time when they first saw the special star. Then he told them, ‘Go to Bethlehem and search for the child. And when you find him, return and tell me, so I can go and worship him, too.’ After this interview, the astronomers started out again. And look! The special star appeared to them again, stopping right over the house where the young child, Jesus, was living.
Their joy knew no bounds! Entering the house where the child and Mary his mother were, they threw themselves down in front of him, worshiping Him. Then they opened their presents and gave Him gold, frankincense, and myrhh. But when they returned to their own land, they didn’t go through Jerusalem to report to King Herod, for God had warned them in a dream to go home by another route.
After the wise men left Bethlehem, an angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up and escape to Egypt with Jesus and his mother,’ the angel said, ‘and stay there until I tell you to return, for King Herod is going to try to kill Jesus.’ That same night Joseph left for Egypt with Mary and Jesus, using the expensive gifts given to Jesus by the wise men to support them on the journey and during the years they stayed in Egypt. They stayed there until King Herod’s death, finally returning to Galilee to the village of Nazareth again, where they lived until Jesus was thirty years old and began his public ministry. In Nazareth Jesus grew both tall and wise and was loved by God and all the villagers.
Years later, when Jesus was about to end his ministry here on earth, knowing he was about to die for the sins of us all, he told the Roman Governor, Pilate, the very reason he had been born on that mysterious night thirty-three years earlier was to die. About thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the beloved Apostle Paul was thinking of the stories he had heard about Jesus’ miraculous birth.
While he was thinking of that wonderful starry night long ago, God inspired him to write these words: “When just the right time had come, the precise time God alone had decided upon, he sent his son, born of Mary, to buy freedom for all of us who were slaves to sin. Because of Jesus, God could purchase us back from the slave market of sin, reaching out to us, and welcoming and embracing us as his very own children. And because we are his sons and daughters, God has sent his Spirit into our hearts, so now we can call God our Dear Father. Now we are no longer slaves to sin, but God’s own sons and daughters—his very own, much-loved children. And since we are his sons and daughters, everything God has belongs to us!”
listen to what Dr. Luke wrote: “It was not long afterwards that Jesus rose into the sky and disappeared in a cloud, leaving his friends and followers staring up into the sky. As they were straining their eyes for one last glimpse of Jesus, suddenly two white-robed men were standing there among them, and said, ‘Why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has returned to heaven, and some day—just as he departed from here—this same Jesus will return.'”
When he returns on great roiling clouds of heaven (just as He had promised on numerous occasions that He would), He will not come again as a helpless baby cuddled in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. No, He will appear the second time as a full-grown, eternal Man, the mighty King of kings and glorious Lord of lords, reigning for all time and eternity from his heavenly throne in our hearts and lives! The governments of earth will be upon his shoulders. He is the Mighty God and Father of Eternity. He is the Prince of Peace. He lives in us and among us in all his glorious fullness. We are his people and He is our God. He is making all things new. Of his growing and expanding Kingdom there shall be no end!
And that, my friends, is the true and complete story of Christmas . . .
Revised and updated January 2023